When wearables arrived on the stage a few years ago, they were mainly seen as devices peripheral to healthcare. Since then, their popularity has surged, primarily due to the increase in sales of fitness trackers and smart watches. Now, many believe the power of wearable technology could be the key to solving some of healthcare’s biggest challenges.
Others, however, predict wearables are merely a passing fad that will soon fade. What’s clear is that in order to make the potential for wearables a reality, the application of the technology will need to change. So the time has come for the wearables’ manufacturers to fully grasp the importance of Darwin’s famous postulate — Evolve to Survive — and act accordingly.
The Story Till Now
Wearables technology has been around for quite some time, but its popularity soared in 2012 when Google Glass and advanced versions of the Fitbit and Jawbone trackers surfaced. Since then, the market has grown steadily. In fact, analysts for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimate the wearables market is now upwards of $1.15 billion.
But even though the consumer base has been steadily growing, the initial hype has been gradually dying. The main reason seems to be the lack of ability to engage customers permanently. People stop wearing them after the novelty wears off. This is a stark difference from the rate of adoption that smartphones have experienced. Almost two-thirds of Americans are predicted to own a smartphone by 2017, more than a threefold increase since 2010.
Research done by Endeavour Partners revealed more than 50 percent of U.S. consumers owning a modern activity tracker stopped using it after a while. Nearly 33 percent of these consumers didn’t use the devices beyond six months. People simply seem to lose interest in these devices.
As for smart watches, most lack any major healthcare related application. Even the first smart watch was not fully equipped to cater to the needs of the healthcare industry.
What Does The Future Hold?
To remain relevant, wearables will need to evolve not only in terms of technology but also in directly addressing the customer’s needs. The new generation of wearables is already offering features such as prolonged battery life and third-party app integration.
For instance, the recent version of Apple Watch is more inclined towards healthcare than its predecessors. In 2014, Apple introduced Health Kit software, which allows apps that provide health and fitness services to share their data. The next year, Apple stepped up to help health innovation by integrating Health Kit with Research Kit, a new iOS software framework that allows people to volunteer to join medical research trials. The platform enabled Stanford researchers to register more than 10,000 people for a medical trial, practically overnight.
Another app maker, Airstrip, demonstrated how by using Apple Watch physicians can send confidential patient data securely to other channel partners and discuss diagnosis and lab results. Apple Watch has also allowed integration of IBM’s commercial supercomputer Watson, which is often quoted as the next big thing in medical analytics. Through an app called Café Well Concierge, Watson will answer user’s queries about health, nutrition, exercise or other health benefit sourcing its data from millions of information bytes available online as well as from feedback provided by physicians and other users.
In addition to evolution in technology, these devices will also need to undergo an evolution in terms of integration with other fast evolving technologies, such as brain-computer interaction, holographic display, virtual reality, and voice/speech recognition which guarantee customer engagement.
Take the example of Muse Band, a headband developed by InteraXon with the primary objective of helping people meditate through tracking of brain waves. However, the product is also finding potential applications in the areas such as diagnosis and monitoring of conditions ranging from tumors to traumatic brain injuries, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Similarly the form of the wearables itself is evolving. The future wearables will not only be worn outside the body, but will be also present inside our bodies in the form of ingestibles. In fact, Jawbone’s CEO, Hosain Rahman, envisions the application of this ingestible technology in areas such as measuring blood alcohol levels for permitting driving and maintaining room temperature for a patient suffering from fever.
The wearables market is clearly in an experimental phase of its journey. Vendors and solution providers are evolving as they better understand customer preferences. We know that healthcare is, and will remain, a major force driving the innovation. If this march towards evolution continues, the wearable industry is bound to see many more years of continuous growth.
The article was originally published on Health IT Outcomes on December 2, 2015 and is re-posted here by permission.