4 Sept 2014
High Tech Eye-strain Spurs High-tech Eye Remedial Care Sector
With young mainlanders increasingly risking eye damage through excessive use of mobile devices, the eye care industry has been swift to respond. Remedial care options now include special lighting and eye-friendly computer monitors.
The eyecare industry, perhaps not that surprisingly, has proved to be one of the beneficiaries of the mainland's growing obsession with mobile devices, particularly in the game sphere. Naturally, such a preoccupation has taken a particular toll on the young, with incidences of childhood myopia growing by the year.
According to the Beijing Children's Hospital, the number of children seeking treatment for the condition has risen dramatically, increasing by 25% in 2012 and 30% in 2013. The 2014 figure is expected to see a 40% rise. Aside from the excessive use of electronic devices, one senior ophthalmologist at the hospital believes a number of other factors are also playing their part. These are said to include inherited problems and the ever-present pressure to study, often in less than perfect reading environments.
As a result, there are now a substantial number of eye care products available that are specifically geared to the student market. Perhaps ironically given the toll being taken by electronic devices, many of the solutions on offer are also in the high-tech sector.
In one of Beijing's largest small commodities wholesale markets, a number of "eye-friendly" notebooks were on sale in the stationery and sports section. Typically, these costs double the price of conventional notebooks with the same specifications.
According to the proprietor of one such outlet, the light yellow inside pages and superior paper quality make this particular range of notebooks both practical and easy for the eyes, therefore justifying their higher price. Explaining her reason for buying such items, one female purchaser said: "I've just bought 30 of them. They are good for children's eyes. That's why I buy them, despite the higher price."
Over in the market's dedicated lighting area, "eye protection" desk lamps were widely available. Energy-saving and eye-protecting are, currently, the two best-selling varieties of lamps. Prices in both categories range from below Rmb100 to Rmb400-Rmb500, depending on the exact product specification.
Typically, the eye-protecting lamps tend to be comparatively expensive. Explaining the function of the lamps, one store owner said: "The eye-protection LED lamp operate off direct current. They are, therefore, free of stroboscopic effects and have low levels of electromagnetic radiation. They also enjoy a longer lifespan than conventional lamps."
In many of Beijing's larger chain stores, notably the Carrefour outlets, eye-protection lamps occupy nearly half of the designated lighting sales areas. Many of the branded eye protection lamps retail for between Rmb400 and Rmb800, around three times the price of conventional lamps.
According to staff at the outlet, the premium price does not deter purchasers, with stock not tending to sit on the shelves for long. As in many other high street retail situations, customers also frequently check out the products in-store, then purchase them online at a discounted price.
The majority of eye-protection lamps now come with a slide or touch dimmer and are available in a wide range of colours, all chosen with young consumers in mind. As an alternative, a number of mid- to high-end eye protection lamps also come in silver grey and black. This is in order to appeal to the "digital generation", which is said to find such a colour scheme more stylish.
Light bulbs that claim to safeguard children's eyes are also available, but come only in a limited number of options. One such item, developed and designed in Taiwan, features a wide angle of lighting (up to 310 degrees) and minimal blue-light emissions. It is priced at around Rmb80, about 10 times the cost of conventional light bulbs.
As well as reading aids, writing instruments have not been immune from moves to protect the eyesight of the young. As a result, one particular eye protection pen is now proving popular across the mainland. It works on the principle of using electronic photosensitivity to guard against myopia by correcting the sitting and pen-holding postures of users. The product is now said to have just completed its seventh upgrade.
Various models of the pen are tailored for users of different heights and builds and it is said to be particularly suitable for junior schoolchildren. If the instrument is not held properly, the ballpoint recedes into the pen body, obliging the user to alter their posture. The pen sells for around Rmb200, with online outlets said to be selling around 10 units a day.
Promoting a healthy lifestyle for "screen starers"
In the teenage sector, eye care products mainly focus on myopia prevention. The adult market, however, has a much greater emphasis on relieving eye fatigue and reducing eyesight damage. With this in mind, there is now a wide range of eye care products available designed specifically for office workers. Particularly popular in this sector are radiation protection glasses, eye massagers and eye care patches.
One Beijing optical shop is currently selling radiation protection spectacle lens for Rmb100-Rmb400 a pair. At the very high end of the range, prices can go up to Rmb1,000. The cost is said to be down to the sophisticated processing technology in the lens, which requires a special film for filtering electromagnetic and monitor-emitted radiation. As a result, the product is promoted as having distinct "anti-fatigue" benefits.
Despite the products' wide availability, ophthalmologists have cautioned that such anti-fatigue lenses need to be properly tailored to a user's eyesight to be effective. This means they need to be prescribed by a professional optician. At present, there are comparatively few eyewear specialists on the mainland who are geared up to provide such a service.
Many eye care products for external use target white-collar workers with high spending power. One item popular in the sector is an eye massager, costing between Rmb500 and Rmb1,000. This is designed to massage the user's optical areas and acupuncture points and provide fatigue relief. The body of the appliance is designed in such a way as to allow easy curvature adjustment for closely fitting to faces of different shapes and sizes.
Targetting the same market, boxes of eye care patches, selling at around Rmb100, can be found on the boutique counters of many chain stores. These patches are designed to be applied for five minutes before midday rest and retiring for the night. One box contains enough patches for one-two weeks of use. Currently, several major brands are offering these patches, with most of them highlighting the natural and herbal elements of their treatments. The brands do, however, vary in terms of their individual composition. One brand, for example, contains salvia root, pearl powder, amur cork-tree bark and wild chrysanthemum, while another offers natural borneol, pearl powder, chrysanthemum and mint.
Eye care patches are now well-established in the market. This has seen greater segmentation occur, with specific patches available for men, women, the elderly and children. There are also separate products aimed at business and mass-market users.
With screens of various sizes and uses seen as the root of the problem, a number of supposedly more eye-friendly screens have inevitably emerged. BenQ, the Taiwanese electronics company, recently launched an eye care monitor that has, apparently, quickly proved an online bestseller.
According to the company, these optically-optimised monitors are outselling similarly specced conventional models despite being considerably more expensive. This has been taken as a sign that there is definite niche for monitors that incorporate flicker-free technology and blue light filter functions.
A similar approach is now being taken by a number of mainland mobile phone manufacturers. One company specialising in outdoor handsets has announced a new range that will come fitted with an EverDisplay Optronics' AMOLED display. Described as the mainland's first eye care-friendly mobile phone range, the new phones are said to minimise exposure to blue light, while not affecting colour performance.
Summing up a sentiment that characterises that of many in the high-tech sector, the mobile phone brand's Chief Executive said: "A 'good' electronic product can now help people lead a healthy lifestyle. It is hoped such products can genuinely improve people's lives."
Yuan Zhen, Special Correspondent, Beijing