TECHNOLOGY AND YOU – GARY M. KAYE  – At the recent 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of the big things was wearables, dominated by more fitness trackers than you can count.  But sadly, most evidence suggests that if you got a fitness tracker for the Holidays, there’s a good chance that now that the show is over, your new tracker will find its way into a drawer, never to re-emerge.  Here’s what’s going on.

fitness-trackers1Consumers tend to look at fitness trackers as a way of motivating themselves to get, well, fit. It’s all so much fun.  Walk around the block and look at your wrist to see how many steps you’ve walked.  Problem is that after a week you know how many steps you’ve walked, so why keep this thing on your wrist to give you the same information?  You sync the results to a shiny app on your smartphone. Share your proud results with your friends.  Only, after a week or two, many users find it’s not worth the time and effort, and that they can’t really do much with the data they collect.  Often it doesn’t integrate with third party apps, and it almost never seems to fit as an element of a total health and fitness solution. While fitness trackers may be the largest part of the wearable market, they are by no means the only segment.

There are smartwatches, and personal emergency response devices (PERS).  But they represent a much smaller part of the market, at least in unit sales.  In 2014 we saw a rush to bring smartwatches to the market in advance of the new Apple watch.  Manufacturers wanted to get whatever market share they could before Apple sucked the wind out of the market, which it’s likely to do regardless of the workings of the watch, simply because it’s Apple.

In 2014 Samsung alone brought 5 wearables to the market:  The Galaxy Gear, The Galaxy Gear Fit, the Galaxy Gear 2, The Gear Live, and the Gear “S”. I spoke with Doctor David Rhew, Samsung’s Chief Medical Officer and the vice president for global healthcare, about the survival rate for all these new devices, “my perspective is that we learn by experience and as we start pushing things out we learn what seems to work and how to make things better and how to continue to improve upon it so the later versions build on what we’ve learned from the earlier versions but the key is speed on the iteration if you wait too long then ultimately you will have missed opportunity to provide something that would be of high value”.

Wearables are still in their infancy.  In coming years they will take on entirely new forms.  For one thing there will be “wearables” that you can swallow to keep track of what’s going on in your body.  Others will be an integral part of your clothing.  Still others will allow unobtrusive monitoring of chronically ill patients, or simply those who are aging in place without an immediate support system.

Rick Valencia, the General Manager of Qualcomm Life, looks at how new technologies that are under development will contribute to the wearable market, “So our view, we’re very focused on sensor technology and on the wearable space. You can imagine, as Qualcomm we have stuff going on across all of different industries. We just helped Timex and their Iron Man line launch their first connected watch. It’s actually got 3G in a watch. So we’ve got that. We also have our own Toq watch. But in my business we’re focused on medical grade sensors. Understand at Qualcomm Life we’re not about fitness and wellness… We’re about managing serious chronic conditions. I don’t believe that over time, people are going to want to, especially as we get more and more into serious chronic conditions, advertise their condition in the form of a wrist worn thing or pendant or earring or whatever. We see over time, that wearables are going to be reading many different biometrics. They’re going to be much much smaller. They’re likely going to be short term disposables. They’re going to have to be really inexpensive. They’re going to be able to be worn in places where no one has to see that you are wearing them. And they need to be optimized for the mobile network.”

Valencia says that for many of us in the 50+ market, the issue will be the data, and getting that data back to the people who can really help us manage our health care, and especially our individual conditions, to make them better.  He adds, “Bluetooth LE (low energy) becomes critically important, battery optimization becomes really important…we start to look at the smartphone as it becomes the center of the universe in a regulated medical way.”

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