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What's next for intelligent wellness devices?

Gartner predicts there will be more than 8.4 billion connected devices by the end of this year and the wearables market is likely to surpass $34 billion by 2020. That's the big picture, but perhaps nowhere have we observed greater success with wearables than in the health and wellness space. The potential for wearable health technology to help us live smarter lives and achieve higher levels of well-being seems infinite, from the ubiquitous trackers on the arms of athletes and people trying to shed pounds, to sophisticated IoT health devices that help treat diseases including heart issues and diabetes.

However, with Gartner-reported abandonment and drop-off rates that reach 30%, we’re beginning to see the wellness tracker industry rethink its value proposition. Today’s product innovators and creators are less interested in their products as standalone devices and more interested in their interconnectedness with larger systems where massive data resides, just waiting to be leveraged for insight. By tapping into the potential of predictive analytics and deeply interconnected wellness experiences, where can we take the IoT in the wellness market and user experience in the years ahead?

Wellness wearables: shifting from “what” to “why”

One of the biggest trends now is the move from general tracking features to personalized insights and actionable advice. “We believe the market is going through a transition phase,” says Mike Caldwell, founder and chief engineer of Pacer Health. "The activity tracking features of the past several years have already become highly commoditized, and now product makers need to find other ways to differentiate themselves beyond activity tracking features." Pacer is a smartphone app that helps users track a variety of goals, and integrates both community features and the ability to sync with other apps. The interconnectedness is key.

At Flex, we’re seeing that with increasing personalization comes the demand for more effective data integration—with implications for hardware, software, and the underlying analytical platforms that power devices. “There will be more and more personalization—wearables and smartphones both present the challenge of limited screen space, and users interact with their devices in a highly fragmented manner," Caldwell agrees. "Many 'sessions' or interactions with wearables or apps are only a few seconds long. This means that apps need to get better and better at using the huge amounts of data they are collecting to target and personalize their user experiences.” Data integration is the key to helping users with a fragmented use style—such as only periodically logging calories or wearing a sleep monitor to bed—to gain maximum value.

Integrating wearable health devices into a larger data ecosystem is, we believe, the core strategy for moving from transactional data collection (the “what”) to higher value insights and the IoT (the “why”). These insights can include diagnostic capabilities, making personalized recommendations to support weight loss or depression management, or the deeper pattern recognition that’s possible when information from divergent areas of users’ lives is collected. It’s important that we envision this as a central part of sustainable product development moving forward.

Consider the example of a smart sleep product that integrates with a smart home. Eight Sleep can use sleep data to determine whether to activate a bed-warming feature to assist users in falling asleep more quickly. By integrating with smart home features, the system can set an alarm or open the window blinds. Imagine the possible health solutions when users are able to combine information about the specific foods they ate, their stress levels during a meeting with their boss, or the ambient room temperature into a single platform—and seamlessly change their environment for optimum well-being based on the insights generated.


Turning information into health insights

As IoT technologies and the underlying infrastructure that powers them become more sophisticated, we’re seeing opportunities for product creators explode. By leveraging stored data across multiple systems and developing platforms that rely on predictive analytics, we can generate predictive insights at multiple levels. As the team at SmartShape writes, “Imagine if, through dynamic APIs and powerful artificial intelligence, your health metrics from multiple wearable devices, connected with your unique hospital health data, could not only be insightful toward knowing more about your own health and wellness, but could also be compared against the anonymous averages of millions of your same age, gender and similar genetic pre-dispositions.”

They conclude, “Suddenly, you’re able to tap into predictive insights like life expectancy and risk of various disease types…These kind of critical health insights could not only guide each individual’s recommended preventative healthcare decisions, but also call out never-before-noticed community health trends, changing the entire preventive healthcare landscape as we currently know it.”

In light of the shifting landscape, at Flex we’re noting specific opportunities: The shift to data-driven predictive wellness insights, building deeper connections via community, and the ability to use underlying platforms for a holistic view of the user. In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a deeper dive into this trend by looking at what it will take to make intelligent wellness devices dynamic enough to be clinical-quality.


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