I have to admit. I’m not yet fully sold on health and fitness wearables. I guess my impression of these products is similar to most Americans who are relatively healthy.
Do I need to know my heart rate, steps taken, or stairs climbed throughout the day?
If so, how accurate is the information and how do I use it to improve my health?
Do I have to upload the data to an app on my phone and then figure out the analytics?
Can my doctor use the information and if so, how?
Do I have time for all of this?
Oh … and will the device look good on my wrist?
In the first phase of product development, these are the types of questions that wearable companies have dealt with. However, to their credit, rather than waiting to create the “perfect product,” they have developed and distributed first generation devices to gather consumer feedback, generate interest, and build a loyal following.
A few have succumbed to market pressures – Intel recently announced that it was shutting down its wearables division, and Jawbone is restructuring – but many of the industry leaders have persevered, including Fitbit, Xiaomi (China), Apple, Garmin, and Samsung.
In the next phase of product development, the focus will be to refine the customer experience, including the form and function of both hardware and software. Devices will have to go beyond providing basic data (heart rate, sleep and activity monitoring, reminders, etc.) to more sophisticated health measures that are predictive and accurate. For example, some recent innovations include:
- Leading wearable manufacturer Fitbit has collaborated with academic medical centers on research studies, including: (a) an investigation of the impact of weight loss on breast cancer recurrence (Dana Farber Cancer Institute); (b) use of its heart-rate monitoring product to collect data and manage post-concussive syndrome (Georgetown University); and (c) the effects of wearing a Fitbit to increase mindfulness on levels of physical activity (Arizona State University).
- Under Armour recently announced that it was investing heavily in wearable technology, including a line of smart clothes that record metrics on sleeves and adjust elements of the fabric based on sweat levels. They also introduced a line of footwear to track performance statistics; and sleepwear that monitors the body at night and helps reduce inflammation using infrared technology.
- Apple is working on a diabetes initiative that monitors glucose using optical sensors rather than finger sticks. It has also developed platforms such as “Healthkit” (gathers information from Apple fitness devices, with the ultimate goal of improving diagnosis); “Researchkit” (open-source framework that allows researchers and developers to create apps for medical research); and “Carekit” (open-source software to allow developers to build apps to manage medical conditions).
- Other companies are assessing the use of wearables for issues such as sleep apnea, smoking cessation, cystic fibrosis, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, falls prevention, post-surgical recovery, and emergency alerts.
According to a recent report by the International Data Corporation (IDC), global manufacturers will sell 125.5 million wearable devices in 2017, an increase of 20% over 2016. Moreover, by 2021, that figure is expected to double. The anticipated growth is due to the evolution of product design and function, in addition to the integration of devices with medical records and data.
From this standpoint, the future looks bright for wearables!