Not another column about wearables, you might be thinking. Some distribution channels might perceive that ‘It’s peaked for us,’ or ‘There’s limited opportunity,’ or ‘People buy the stuff, only to put it away after a few weeks,’ and so on. Until recently, wearables have been associated with low-tech trackers, and other gizmos and gadgets – but change is in the air – as the market moves beyond the novelty phase.
Big innovation trends like IoT, AR/VR, AI, low-power wireless technologies, nano-technologies and smart textiles are reshaping the wearables market for the next chapter in its evolution. These technologies are unleashing a new era for digital wearables across sectors including fashion, entertainment, fitness, sports performance, and enterprise and productivity, as well as healthcare. Do we need to change our way of looking at wearables?
Beyond stylish form factors and design, the future for more sophisticated wearables will be reliant on increasing consumer expectations of actionable feedback based on the new ‘gold’ – data. It is the growing ability to accurately and effectively analyze this data, and provide an action, insight or diagnosis that is starting to change the wearables landscape, and holds the key to disruption. At the back end, hidden under the hood, this involves Big Data Analytics, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Analysis. This is the ‘magic sauce’ that is underpinning this next generation of wearables.
What will be measured? Will it be sports performance, fitness or just plain activity? Will it be parameters associated with wellness or health, such as chronic disease, illness or pain management? Will wearables increase worker engagement, motivation or squeeze greater productivity and efficiencies in the workplace? If I purchase a device, do I pay, or will it be reimbursed?
Every one of these questions represents an opportunity for the channel. From a business strategy perspective, the channel may want to consider identifying four local or regional metrics, and then mapping products/categories against them. Parameters might include:
- Demographics: Age, gender – which age groups are trending larger
- Local sports activities and teams, including at schools and colleges
- Proximity of institutions like clinics, rehab and assisted-living facilities as well as physicians and gerontologists
- Other work-related environments including, for example, manufacturing and enterprises.
Aside from products that are fads and are less sustainable, the wellness and health sectors merit closer scrutiny by channels. They represent what’s here as well as future opportunities. Stores like Best Buy are developing categories within their physical and virtual stores that showcase this ever-growing category – particularly with the consumerization of health.
People are catching on that the monitoring of exercise, weight, and heart rate can lead to making healthier decisions. It’s like having a personal assistant who tracks and monitors your health and then encourages you to make decisions that improve your overall quality of life.
The use of wearable devices by consumers has nearly quadrupled in the past four years, from just nine percent in 2014 to 33 percent today, according to Accenture. Roughly three-fourths of health consumers view wearables — such as those that monitor glucose, heart rate, physical activity and sleep — as beneficial to understanding their health condition (75 percent), engaging with their health (73 percent), and monitoring the health of a loved one (73 percent).
People are living longer lifespans, and boomers want to stay healthy as long as possible. With the Baby Boomer generation comes technological shifts and an ever-increasing role for wearables, because they are always on a person.
The aging tech-savvy Baby Boomers want to retain control over their own health, and also plan to live independently for as long as possible. Companies are addressing the elderly and aging as a separate and lucrative market with its own needs – and for channels this represents an emerging, burgeoning market. Empowering people to ‘age in place’ usually has better outcomes, higher quality of life, and is cost-reducing for already overloaded medical institutions. In a recent poll, 90 percent of older Americans were said to prefer to live in their own home as they age.
These wearables and devices support a higher degree of convenience, security, and assistance to this population. Sensors in wearables can detect abnormal activity such as falls, change of habits, and altered sleep. They also act as health monitors that can help the user achieve the care they need by recording and tracking their condition for them, and then easily sharing this information with a doctor or caretaker.
Increasingly, wearables will also bridge the gap between patients and the care they need, even when they are not in the same room or building as a provider or doctor. They will also offer faster response to emergencies and medical issues, as they arise. Exhibits and discussions at CES 2018, HIMSS 2018 (the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s IT show and conference) and other events have centered around new models for care in which wearable devices are becoming part of the healthcare delivery team.
Apple and Samsung
Entrepreneurs, analysts, researchers, investors and major technology players like Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung, among others, are busy discussing how wearables are going to impact healthcare in a more significant manner and are working to develop new health-focused solutions.
A new generation of smartwatches, led by Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, threaten to render simpler fitness trackers obsolete. Improved motion sensors and fitness apps on phones could also be used to track walks or runs without a dedicated fitness tracker.
Apple, with its iOS as well as its HealthKit and CareKit platforms, is building an ecosystem including third parties that are generating products and services that cover the spectrum from provider to patient and consumer. By working with innovative medical, health and other companies, Apple is broadening its reach into the healthcare industry and helping to support digital solutions that improve quality of care and the patient experience throughout all stages of care.
The AliveCor KardiaBand watch strap with sensor, compatible with the Apple Watch, is the world’s first FDA-cleared EKG with Artificial Intelligence. It allows the wearer to check in with his heart on-the-go, track data over time or email medical-grade recordings directly to a doctor for review. Companies like Belkin, for instance, with its Fitness Armbands makes various versions of the Apple iPhone a wearable.
Similarly, Samsung is also aiming to be player in wearables, and it is leveraging its VR headset and various models of the Gear smartwatch for meaningful health. Built into Samsung hardware and software is Samsung’s Knox Tizen SDK platform. The Tizen OS and Knox security features include authentication controls and encryption, as well as how data is transmitted and stored. The SDK also allows for app and device management, customization and more.
At CES 2018 and then at HIMSS, Samsung Electronics and MobileHelp, a maker of home and wearable medical alert devices, announced a collaboration that would bring mobile personal emergency response capabilities to Samsung Gear S3 smartwatches. Called MobileHelp Smart, the devices integrate MobileHelp’s platform into a modified version of Samsung’s watch, taking advantage of its fitness-monitoring features, GPS, cell capabilities, and 24/7 emergency help responsiveness. It even has a Fall Button, which automatically detects a fall and signals for help even if the wearer can’t.
Reemo Health’s remote monitoring platform compatible with Samsung Gear watches was also introduced at CES and then at HIMSS. It is aimed at senior care, home health and post-acute monitoring. It enables tracking the user’s movement, heart rate and location, and enables one-button 911 calls. It also records the wearer’s quality of movement, sleep patterns and other relevant health data and uploads it to the cloud, so that care providers and family members can spot negative health trends on a dashboard, and intervene before there’s an emergency. It is now also working with personal safety and security company ADT and analytics company Teradata. The partnership will allow seniors to access ADT’s help line by tapping a Samsung Gear smartwatch.
Wellness, Health, Boomers & More
Fitbit is shifting from its wristband perch into niche markets and is now particularly focused on wellness and health. It’s developing a new ecosystem with features like the App Gallery, Fitbit Pay, its subscription-based Fitbit Coach trainer, and is working to integrate its recent acquisition of Twine Health’s cloud-based health platform into its Fitbit. This spring it will launch the Fitbit Ace, a tracker for kids 8 years and up, as well as the much-anticipated new smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa. The Fitbit Ace will track steps, sleep, activity minutes, and can connect to a smartphone. It also comes with an adjustable, showerproof wristband in two bright colors. The Ace encourages kids to stay active by giving them a buzz on their wrist, which reminds them to walk 250 steps each hour, and it also gives kids feedback with celebratory messages and collectible badges.
Employer Wellness Programs with Incentives
Early in March at HIMSS, the UnitedHealthcare Motion program announced that it was adding Apple Watch to its employee wellness program, in addition to Fitbit, Garmin and Samsung devices. UHC Motion, which is powered by Qualcomm Life’s 2net platform, is an employer-sponsored wellness program that launched in March 2016. Participants can earn up to $4 per day in credits by achieving one or more of their goals on each arm of the F.I.T. (frequency, intensity, and tenacity) program. Altogether, participants can earn up to $1,500 in Health Savings Account or Health Reimbursement Account credits per year.
Participants in the program will be able to get Apple Watches nearly for free, paying only taxes and shipping. They can then apply earnings from the program toward purchase of the device, owning it in as little as six months.
United Healthcare follows in the footsteps of Aetna, which has been offering some members free Apple Watches since September 2016.
Virtual reality is changing entertainment as well as gaming – and more content is becoming available. There are headsets from Sony, HTC, Acer, Lenovo, Oculus and others.
One of the more intriguing uses of VR is as the new painkiller or drug-free alternative for managing pain and anxiety – helping patients to “escape” from painful medical procedures or scary hospital stays. Leaders in this new area are Cedars-Sinai and AppliedVR, among others.
Dr. Brennan Spiegel and his team at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles introduced VR worlds to patients to help them release stress and reduce pain. Applied VR is a clinically validated content platform, compatible with Samsung’s Gear VR that is transforming patient experiences in hospitals, senior care facilities, exam rooms and more. Its easy-to-use VR content platform enables a patient to escape from the hospital and visit amazing landscapes in Iceland, participate in the work of an art studio, or swim with whales. By reducing stress and pain, the length of a patient’s stay or the amount of resources utilized can both be decreased, according to Spiegel.
“Therapeutic VR is not just creating distraction. We’ve found that, neurochemically, there is something going on,” said Dr. David Rhew, chief medical officer, Samsung Electronics America, at HIMSS 2018.
At the beginning of March, Travelers Insurance, Cedars-Sinai, Samsung Electronics America, Bayer and AppliedVR announced a collaboration to explore the effectiveness of a digital pain-reduction kit that uses therapeutic VR and wearable technology (the Gear VR and Gear Fit) as a non-pharmacological supplement to managing pain associated with acute orthopedic injuries of the lower back and extremities, resulting from workplace injuries, for example. In this era of the opioid epidemic, this type of digital therapeutic might alleviate the need for an injured employee to turn to drugs to mask pain. There’s an opportunity for channels to explore new and/or upcoming sales opportunities with medical, rehabilitation and other facilities in their local or regional communities.
New-Baby Gadgets & Hearables
Perhaps no group is as tuned into data as new parents of their first-born. From the hour their baby is born, they are continually monitoring how long the baby sleeps, how many diapers are changed, how much and how often the baby eats, what the baby weighs, and the list goes on and on. If the baby is sick, add in more data points to worry about, like temperature, medication and fluids.
It’s not surprising that the latest wave of consumer data products targets worried new parents trying to get some peace of mind. Recently, a national baby goods superstore sent a sales email including a baby sock with a built-in pulse oximeter. It tracks the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels and sends a signal to the parent’s phone if something appears to be wrong. There are also other devices with apps where parents can record the baby’s weight, feeding times and amounts, diaper changes, sleep and more. That data can then be shared with doctors and caregivers.
This is a relatively new category for wearables. It’s no longer just about headphones or earbuds just for listening to music or phone calls. There are a growing number of smart earbuds that function as fitness coaches, personal assistants and language translators – with no bulky wrist accessory.
There are products like the Bragi Dash Pro that offers five hours of battery life, real-time translation, and more. The Samsung Gear IconX 2018 brings Bixby and extended battery life – five hours of streaming music over Bluetooth, seven hours of standalone use and up to four hours of talk time. Jabra’s Elite Sport offers real-time coaching, heart rate sensing and Vo2 Max testing plus sweat- and water-proofing. Extras include audio pass-through, so you can easily switch between calls and music. At MWC, we saw the latest version of the real-time language translating earbud from Waverly Labs. The earbuds use dual microphones and custom noise cancelling algorithms to produce clear speech for listen and converse features.
A growing range of wearables and personal electronics are quickly becoming staples of our lifestyles. Simple user interfaces, seamless experiences and convenience are key. The new combinations of multiple devices and data — Fitbits, smartphones, the weather, what we eat, how far we walk, our sleep – will bring new insights and value to people’s lives. Increasingly, wearables are moving into the realm of becoming a more integral part of people’s well-being and health as they shift from just spewing raw data to delivering insights for healthier living.
The uses for wearables are increasingly limitless, and ultimately will become ubiquitous. At the recent Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Visa debuted three NFC-enabled limited-edition mobile payment wearables for athletes and fans. Wearable tech helped Winter Olympic athletes skate faster and stay warm. Some athletes wore self-warning jackets from Ralph Lauren, as well as the Samsung SmartSuit designed for speed skaters.
What’s the vision of wearables? What superpowers will wearables give consumers in the future? What are the new opportunities for channels? Stay tuned.
C4 Trends Senior Editor/Analyst Susan Schreiner can be reached at email@example.com.