by Theo Gibbons
Following our previous posts, which pitted Microsoft’s Band against Apple’s Watch, we turn this week to the theme of wearables and wellbeing. ‘Wellness’ was once a straightforward matter of kale concoctions, Pilates posturing, and Whole Foods foraging. No longer. Wellness is wearables. Wellness is big data.
Why? Well, amongst much uncertainty as to what, exactly, wearables have to offer, wellbeing and health have emerged as key value propositions.
The pitch goes something like this: ubiquitous wearable sensors are set to revolutionise healthcare by providing real-time, ongoing, and personalised data points; health professionals will be able to gain a complete picture outside of clinical settings and adjust treatment plans accordingly; individuals will be able to acquire new perspectives on their relevant behavioural patterns (think diabetics learning about how their dietary habits affect their blood glucose levels).
Indeed, Microsoft argues that its Band’s real value is realised through Health, a “cloud-based service that helps you live healthier by providing actionable insights”, drawing in information from “a variety of devices and services to give you insights into your entire day across nutrition, work, fitness and rest.” And it’s already a crowded market. Several tech companies are vying to develop the health tracking ecosystem of choice: Google Fit, Jawbone UP, and of course, Apple HealthKit all propose to bring together data from your favourite apps and hardware.
Wearables are growing up, graduating from glorified pedometers to bonafide health tracking devices. As Fitbit’s CEO, James Park puts it: “there’ll be a next big leap in benefits once we tie into more detailed clinical research and cross the hurdles and dialogue with the FDA about what we can do for consumers and what’s regulated or not.” Apple’s ResearchKit is already on the way to achieving just that. An open source framework that aims to bring iPhone owners and medical researchers together, it pushes the scope of wearables into new territory. Indeed, several big-name medical studies are already under way, establishing Apple’s sensors as research grade.
Success in this field would bring huge rewards, enabling tech companies to tap into a multi-billion health market (some $6.3 billion are spent each year on blood glucose test strips in the US alone). What’s more, the chronically ill make for a loyal customer base. It isn’t like they can just decide to drop their wearables on a whim. And even for the healthy, unifying ecosystems such as the Apple HealthKit inaugurate a new era of intimacy and dependency, capturing ever more of our bio-digital identities.