Why Should I Care About Wearables?

on March 19, 2014

I’m as early an adopter as they come. I have about every health and fitness wearable on the market. However, if you ran into me on the street today I wouldn’t have a single one on me. Why? I simply don’t find them valuable. The question I keep circling back to is, “Why I should care about these products?” When I first started using them it was novel to see how many steps I had taken or how much sleep I had the night before. But after a few days the novelty wore off. The data was simply not useful or actionable. There was no value in the data. Everything I put on my body is intentional. There is a reason it is there. This booming wearable market everyone keeps talking about has yet to produce a product I value enough to keep on.

What is strange about my conclusion is it seems as though I am the target for many of these products. I am extremely active and I am conscious about my diet. My health and wellness is a priority for me, and I look to tech to play a role in all aspects of my life. But nothing on the market appeals to me in any way, shape, or form. Oddly enough, I hear often from folks who find value in their health or fitness wearable who do have health issues. It seems if you have specific health issues that wearables address you would find some of these products more valuable than a generally healthy person–at least for now.

Perhaps it is less an issue with the product category and more about the data. What I find lacking in the data is its weakness in helping me take action with the findings. So I know how many steps I took, how does this help me? What can or should be done to change my behavior? So I know how many calories I burned. What changes should be made to burn more?

Recently, I ran into this issue with the Fitbit Aria Scale. This particular scale tracks your weight as well as your body mass index. I got this scale just before the holidays which, in retrospect, was maybe not the best time to be tracking my weight. Post holidays, I set a goal of getting back to my “tennis season” weight. I watched my weight go down and in some cases my BMI go up. I had no idea what that meant or what steps I should be taking to both lose weight and BMI – but I would have found that information valuable. All of these products lack a follow-up step to help us make sense of the data and recommend action based on our goals. This will need to be addressed before these products have mass market appeal.

Apple and Healthbook

Can Apple or Google address this? In some ways yes and in some ways no. One of my driving convictions about the wearable market is it is not a one size fits all segment. There are many different things consumers will want in these devices. It will be nearly impossible for some time to address all the needs of this market with one single product. In Apple’s case, the only way they could address this space is to make many products — all with specific appeal to parts of this segment. This is why I think the Healthbook concept, if real, could be very telling of Apple’s strategy. What if they are hiring experts in the health and medical hardware business in order to understand the vast complexity of sensors so they can support any number of configurations from third parties so these third parties can create meaningful hooks into iOS? In short, what if Apple is preparing to enable and empower an ecosystem of wearables, made by third parties, but with unique and proprietary hooks to the iPhone. Healthbook would simply serve as a mechanism to work with third party hardware, along with specific APIs, and display key data for the consumer. This makes the most sense to me. Apple would encourage and enable third party hardware companies to build value around the iPhone and make the platform stronger. Should Apple make a glucose monitor? Probably not. Should they enable the company who wants to make the glucose monitor extend the value of the device in a meaningful way to their ecosystem? Yes. This is what I think Apple is up to. Let Nike, Fitbit, Adidias, iHealth, or whomever go after market niches in the health and wearable ecosystem — but make sure they work best with iOS.

In the case of Apple and Google, this will be an ecosystem battle. Both are now looking to address complimentary points of their ecosystem in areas they may not have much control over. Some experiences may decentralize from the smartphone and some may not. Apple and Google are in uncharted territory from a platform level. However, embracing and extending their ecosystem with the help of third party hardware is a key strategic element for them both.