It’s been predicted before (pretty much every year for the last five years or so) but this year it may finally be real: The explosion of intelligent, health-oriented devices may have reached escape velocity, propelling this trend into industry-shifting orbit.
Among the biggest stories coming out of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the proliferation of health-oriented “wearables” (time for a new name: “Healthwear”) – devices that monitor your well-being while either attached to your clothing or (soon) serving as clothing themselves.
Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike have had products on the market since the Bush Administration, but this year, in addition to major upgrades of their own devices, they have been joined by a slew of competitors, big and small. Here is what is sure to be an incomplete list of the newest entrants:
- Garmin Vivofit
- iFit Active
- Lumo Lift
- LG Lifeband Touch
- Misfit Wearables Shine
- Polar V800
- Sony Core
- Withings Pulse
Most of these devices offer what have become ”the basics:” movement tracking, calorie counting and sleep monitoring. While a few are adding more ambitious features: Heart rate monitoring (Garmin Vivofit and Withings Pulse) and even posture awareness (Lumo Lift). As the category continues to expand, the biggest challenge may be coming up with a clever name that isn’t already taken (the Apple iObsess, anyone?)
And on the horizon lurk powerful, “single purpose” devices that track critical health measures more precisely: iHealth Lab has announced a set of three wearables: a blood pressure monitor, an ECG and a Pulse Oximeter. And by far the cutest single purpose device yet conceived is the frog-shaped Mimo Baby Monitor, which measures your bundle of joy’s respiration, pulse and body temperature and sends the vitals to your mobile app, enabling anxious parents to sleep (or leave home for a relationship-saving date night) in peace.
So now that healthwear is all the rage (even competing with motorized skateboards and 4K Televisions for geeky attention at CES), the question becomes—can practical use can be made of them by patients and professionals? And is there a role to play for pharma, biotech and med device companies?
The answer to both questions is an emphatic “yes”, and some companies are already trying on healthwear to see if it makes a good strategic fit. A few years back, Sanofi partnered with Misfit Wearables founder and CEO Sonny Vu in the development of its iBG Star blood glucose meter. We here at Heartbeat have been involved in the development of several apps that tie wearable health technologies to mobile interfaces. (Of course, if I reveal anything more about this the wearable confidentiality device strapped to my navel will explode.)
But I will say this: In categories like CNS, diabetes and autoimmune disease, the potential for devices that can “read” the patient’s symptoms (without the patient having to “do” anything) and translate traces of that experience to their doctor is truly astonishing. Think of it as the next generation of embedded intelligence.
So as 2014 kicks into high gear, we are racing rapidly toward the day when we will live among the “internet of things.” In such a world, at least some of these “things” will be “healthwear” -- devices can help advance our society a long way toward the goal of making each of us more self-aware, and better able to manage our own well-being.
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