Until wearable technologies embrace the “Big Data” of biomechanics, the ability for consumers and health care providers to grasp and sustain the benefits will remain a challenge.
New “personal” sensor technologies for diagnostics, health monitoring, and compliance are being introduced into the market at an ever increasing pace. With global revenue from smart devices set to reach $52.3 Billion by 2019, according to technology analysts Juniper Research, it’s easy to see why investors might be tempted to jump on this trend.
At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wearable technologies were a highlight and it looks as if this new generation is here to stay. Still, reviews noted that all of the wearables (again) fell into the same three categories; “Notification Tools, Activity Trackers, and Glasses.”
The Telegraph was more critical noting, “despite the hype, these gizmos disappointingly failed to deliver for another year. Designs are still clunky and basic functionality of most attempts remain unchanged. In short, what we've got is a series of 'me too' devices – items that match in both what they look like and do.”
In 2014, CES reviewers noted that wearable technologies were still “grasping, perhaps at future technological directions, or hoping that the Internet of Things will somehow make a connected world of devices work together in some smart home utopia.”
This year Tom Goodwin, SVP of strategy and innovation at Havas Media, says the issue comes down to the industry pushing out what it’s easily possible to produce, rather than looking to creative types to explore human needs and desires.
“We’re seeing a lot of devices that look similar and perform similar functions,” he explained. “Wearables should be designed with consumer behavior in mind, catering to an unmet human need and utilizing a unique technology – but I haven't seen many examples of this at CES this year. It feels companies are hurriedly jumping into the space quickly to steal a march on Apple.”
Despite the hype, reviewers again concluded that; “there was not much worth buying.” Contrary to most reviewers, my opinion is that this is because of the primarily “device-centric” focus of the market's approach and not simply the aesthetic of the devices—they are simply not yet truly useful.
It seems that most of today’s wearable technologies have ignored the best advice I received as a young entrepreneur: “Solve real, painful problems to make your product a must-have, not a nice-to-have, product.”
Google made search easier. Amazon simplified online buying and selling. Netflix saw the future of online streaming media. Uber has made on-demand services more accessible. Somehow monitoring sleep, monitoring calories, counting steps, or measuring runs seems useful enough—for about 6 months, then most of these devices end up in a drawer.
As new sensor technologies proliferate, we are facing an unprecedented challenge of not just providing “dumb sensors” that simply remind (i.e., notify), track (i.e., count) or provide an internet portal. I think the shear number of sensors that are already in the drawer should be telling us that consumers quickly tire of the novelty of tracking!
So why haven’t wearable technologies, even those from industry leaders like Garmin, Samsung or FitBit (watches), and Intel (Jarvis) been able to make real headway in the health market?
The challenge is that we have not yet moved these technologies beyond counting steps, or measuring some aspect of athletic performance like heart rate into the realm of health or even athletic consumer analytics that will turn these “dumb sensors” into data gateways. These new gateways can supply users with data from these devices that uses “tracking” information in new ways that help people to understand its meaning, and make use of the data to change their behaviors with guidance.
We must challenge ourselves to use all of the available sensor data (Big Data) and integrate it into analytics platforms that can be used by:
- Individual patients (or athletes)—for understanding and improving individual performance;
- Therapists (or coaches)—who are guiding individual therapy (or training) as well as using aggregated data to understand and measure (in a quantitative way) the outcomes of training (rehabilitation) methods;
- Medical billing entities—who have to show compliance with the ACA outcomes measurements; and
- Policy makers and insurance companies—who have an opportunity to integrate these new wearable technologies into practice to improve patient outcomes and patient compliance, health care delivery, and evidence outcomes.
Wearable technologies hold a lot of promise – the markets are already seeing unprecedented levels of investment (and valuations). Even the biggest market makers can’t ignore the fact that health care is now almost 18% of GDP.
However, until wearable technologies embrace the “Big Data”—initially and maybe even primarily—of biomechanics, the ability for consumers and health care providers to grasp and sustain the benefits will remain a challenge, and most will echo the comments from last year's CES: “There’s not much worth buying.”
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.