Are Wearables Doomed?
A number of articles have appeared in the last week, asking if wearables have already peaked. I think that the answer is a solid no. I’m going to break this down into a few parts, tracking devices, health and smart wearables (Glass, smart watches, etc.).
While, I do think that the fitness tracking space is limited, I think that has to do with the appeal of these devices. No matter how many features fitness trackers offer, they will only appeal to a certain segment of the market. However, I think that there are three important aspects that have been unexplored so far.
First, is the feature set, most of the tracking devices are simply motion tracking, they do step counting and possibly sleep tracking. There are some people that primarily care about these two things. However, it misses out on other potential exercising, like cycling, or weight lifting. There are some tracking devices designed to do better activity tracking, like Basis, but we aren’t quite there yet, and those devices don’t seem to have penetrated the market in the same way that FitBit and its competitors have. Adding more sensors, and providing a more complete activity tracking picture will entice more people.
Second is health. I’ll discuss this more below, but there is an overlap with tracking devices.
Third, tracking devices may be used in conjunction with smart devices. This allows them to be possibly more discreet and less expensive, connecting through Bluetooth Smart (BLE). Perhaps I’ll have a step counter on my hip, a heart rate monitor chest strap, and a temperature sensor on my arm, all talking to Glass. What this does is allows those other devices to cut down on their BOMs, for example, they would not need a display at all if connected to a smart watch or to Glass, because they would already have access to a glance-able display.
This isn’t as much a consumer space, but I think that there is a ton of potential here. We are just now starting to see devices that can start addressing health issues showing up. What’s more, there is some overlap with the tracking devices, for people with lifestyle conditions that would be improved by exercise.
I have started seeing reports of wearable patches being developed that could run on body heat and measure blood pressure. Imagine if there was an easier way to do blood glucose readings with a non-invasive wearable? Or, a potential application for Glass which might assist patients in taking their pills, using computer vision to verify the correct pill, and motion tracking to verify that it was taken, then reporting to the physician. There are lots of potential applications in this space.
This is what is going to tie everything together. I’m not sure that people will be still walking around with phones in a few years or not. Either way, smart wearables will enable other categories of wearables, as well as providing their own value. We are starting to see some useful Glassware show up, things like LynxFit and DriveSafe, that really couldn’t be done without Glass or at least not as well.
Wearables are not doomed, and they have not peaked, but we aren’t there yet either. If we still aren’t there in a couple of years, I’ll have to re-think some things, but for now, I’m optimistic.