In 2005, my team at a previous company launched the first smart sports bra. In that moment, we referred to this new technology as â€śsmart apparel.â€ť This was a term that quickly innovated itself into what we know it as today: wearable technology. Wearable tech has come a long way since then. Or has it?
After working over 15 years in the wearable technology space, I have learned the most important question to answer before launching any consumer fitness or health tech product. Here's what to consider if you're thinking of launching a wearable product.Â
What metrics matter most to the consumer, and how can those metrics truly improve their lives?
Wearable devices have exploded over the past decade and will haveÂ a projected market value of just under $52 billion dollars by 2022, according to a release published onÂ Marketwatch. The sector has shown no signs of slowing down. The wearable market will likely double from 526 billion units in 2016Â toÂ 1.1 billion units by 2022, according to Statista (paywall).
The opportunity for entrepreneurs to create wearable devices in the health tech market is undeniable; however, the impact for the consumerâ€™s overall health is still up for debate. Are these products really giving consumers an indication of their true fitness, and are they “sticky” enough to enable the kind of long-term use that provides real improvements for health and longevity?
After overseeing the development of a “smart” bra, I watched as dozens of other consumer health tech products hit the market. I watched as a new class of wearable technology was born, with many claiming to offer a clear path to better health, longer life or the like. The competitive advantage they sought was rooted in the metrics they provided their users. Initially, I observed that it was all about the data (like the number of stepsÂ fitness counters track). Then it was all about the analytics based on the data (such as heart rate), and then it was about the insights (like your level of fatigue), which aimed to provide a better user experience. PAI Health (which offers an activity-tracking metric) and MIO Go (which monitors activity) are examples of insight-based products.Â Recently some of these appear to be losing favor with consumers, while others are rapidly gaining ground.
For example, as Wareable writer Husain Sumra said, â€śWe've heard the constant drumbeat of analysts on the wearable market for a while now: Fitness trackers are on their way out as people increasingly turn toward smartwatches that can do more.â€ťÂ
Iâ€™d like to break down what I see as the three biggest segments of the consumer wearable market:
1. Fitness trackers have been a strong segment in the wearable market — Statista dataÂ (paywall) shows that revenue in this market continues to rise — but other data suggests they may lose steam. One 2016 Gartner survey citesÂ high rates of abandonmentÂ and suggests that the measurements donâ€™t offer enough value. A case could be made that while these devices do offer accurate measurements of what weâ€™re doing, they may fall short in telling users how we're doing. A 2016 study from The Lancet Diabetes & EndocrinologyÂ suggested that after one year a fitness tracker had no effect on test subjects' overall health and fitness.
2. Smartwatches have quickly become a popular segment of the wearable market: Statista found (paywall) that smartwatch sales in the United States reached 12.8 million in 2017, up from 0.6 million in 2013. They not only measure what we do, but they also have the capacity to measure some of our vital signs while we do it. Moreover, the devices have an advantage because they include software in high demand from consumers, including but not limited to music and communications. In fact, smartwatches may be offering real value in terms of health: AÂ recent study funded by Apple Inc. suggested that Apple Watches in particular could help identify heart rate irregularities and risk factors for stroke in their users.
3. Smartphones already dominate our daily lives and are likely the most prevalent piece of technology in the hands of consumers worldwide. As the hardware of our smartphones rapidly develops, it is now possible for these devices to aggregate software that measures what we do and our level of health. Is the future of health technologyÂ inside our phones? According to HealthTech, researchers are exploring how smartphone technology could improve patient care.
I believe entrepreneurs who can create an experience that offers clear and actionable data will deliver the biggest impact for consumers. This experience can be powered by software that fits seamlessly alongside the trusted apps we use every day.
My experience in this market shows that consumers want clear, actionable metrics when it comes to their health and wellness. Imagine a traffic light with a red, yellow or green light representing your current status. The simplest, and in my opinion most valuable, metrics are those that most clearly identify our health. Entrepreneurs looking to break into this market should calculate these metrics from our physiology, what weâ€™re doing and how itâ€™s negatively or positively impacted by our behavior (e.g., exercise, diet and so on) — and should integrate them into our everyday devices. When we can bring the activity and physiological data together and tell the consumer how their overall health is improving, we can create a great consumer experience.
The future of health technology, in my opinion, depends on the consumer experience and consumer preferences. It might be a wrist device, a smartphone or smart apparel — as long as it delivers a simple and easy health metric in the most ubiquitous way that can be tracked and improved. Ultimately, the future of this technology should help empower us to improve our health. In 2019, weâ€™ve moved beyond simply wanting to “know” and on to doing something about it.