As 2013 rolls into the spring, this year has already proven to be chock-full of health and fitness sensors, wearables and devices for every quantified self-junkie. I think The Verge said it right, describing this year’s CES as the “Invasion of the body trackers.” Last year we were introduced to the Fitbit and Fuelband and in true market glory, CES 2013 re-enforced the principal that anything good (that is electronic) will become cheaper to produce and be subject to a massive wave of commoditization and “me-too” followers which erodes not only value but complicates choice for consumers. (It also drives true innovation, which is a great thing.)
If CES is what the consumer will see by that year’s holiday season, SXSW usually is a demonstration of what the consumer market may look like in 1-2 years – less about showcasing actual hardware but more about the discussion of ideas and the exposition of future trends.
Some of the panels I attended at SXSW 2013 included: Wearables: Moving from Niche to Mainstream, Designing Wearable Technology & the Augmented Self, The Next Frontier of Interactive: Smart Fashion, Wearing your Health on your Sleeve, and Reimagining Health, Technology & Design.
Sarah Rotman Epps of Forrester Research sees the future of wearable tech in ingestibles and injectables that will literally vanish into the body. She also looks at the future of fitness-only wearables as limiting and is waiting for the crossover, where the wristband tracking your heart rate and runs is also your car key and your credit card. This aligns with my ‘Lord of the Rings’ prediction that there will ultimately be, “one device to rule them all.”
Another highlight of SXSW this year was Google’s Project Glass. Their demo revealed Gmail, New York Times, and some more 3rd party apps for the 1st time. As I mentioned above, this ‘true PC’ form also delivers us a UI through direct vision and leverages gesture and audio as the primary input drivers. Would this eventually evolve into just a dumb UI terminal connected to your phone wirelessly? What would a fitness-specific version look like or a Fitness App look like on Google Glass?
Another Google highlight included the unveiling of a talking shoe prototype that poses the question of how humans will interact with the objects in the world if those objects are connected to the Internet of things and are contextually aware of how they are being used (and should be used).
First, we’re going to see more proliferation of services and products in this space. For example, Samsung recently announced that their Galaxy S4 now has additional sensors and a built-in health-tracking app called S-Health. With the commoditization of hardware, the connected health industry is being fast tracked into the consumer life. What we haven’t seen yet is truly a user-friendly product that, as entrepreneur and early-stage investor Tim O’Reilly advocates, ”delights users” by closing the loop. By this I mean a product that not only provides contextual and unobtrusive data measurement, but also provides the motivating feedback and provides the user a valuable and compelling story behind the noise that is the data. This motivating feedback then allows the user to see real behavior change.
Second, with the payer shift in the U.S Health Care system, larger payers are going to start betting large dollars on this behavior change. You’re going to start seeing the large insurers be the primary purchaser and supplier of these types of devices or services. Think about how the U.S Government influenced smart phone industry in the early days of the Blackberry.
Third, you’ll start seeing differentiation in products. The wrist is valuable real estate but you’ll see so many entries into the mass consumer market around smart apparel and more so when battery technology becomes cheaper and longer lasting.
Lastly, a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 69% of U.S adults track a health indicator like weight, diet, exercise routine, or symptoms. The issue? Of those, half track this “in their heads,” one-third keep notes on paper, and one in five use technology to keep tabs on their health status. The jury is still out whether having access to this type of tracking and monitoring can translate into measurable, healthier outcomes, there is no denying that technology in this space continues to provide more ways to educate people about their health and wellness.