Wearables, Big Data, and an Unasked Question

By Brian Burke, CEO

It seems like it was just yesterday that the Nike FuelBand, the first super mainstream connected wearable, hit the market and created with it a digital experience that sought to challenge and inspire us in our daily lives – in this case to exceed our personal fitness best, as seen in daily steps and energy burned. When it launched we didn’t all dream of the opportunity to track this info or see the immediate added value to our lives, but we now see that this concept, and traceable data, has become an evolving trend that has surpassed the early-adopters and segued into mainstream consumerism with no end in sight. I imagine, however, that like many others, your FuelBand ended up in a desk drawer after about 4-6 months. The user-experience, while initially engaging, trailed off over a very short period. But why is this? Why has discarding technology become a reoccurring trend? And, what can we do about it? Let’s explore.

The quest for the right offering in wearables, with a balance of useful data and information for the consumer, continues to drive innovation in this space. This is big business, with the continual happenings of mergers & acquisitions, and FitBIt’s upcoming IPO, proving that there truly is a growing economy for this market segment. However, the question of “actionable data” from wearables continues to arise, as does the topic of whether or not there is enough substance in the information presented to the average fitness fan to be to their advantage. Price Waterhouse Coopers’ The Wearable Future report from October 2014 found that 33% of surveyed consumers who purchased a wearable technology device more than a year ago no longer use the device at all or use it infrequently, with one of the primary reasons being the “lack of actionable and inconsistent information”. But while I found this to be true myself, being in the business of digital transformation I know that we are just at the beginning of this, and predictions are for explosive growth in this category, even with the multitude of discarded fitness bands continuing to take up drawer space.

This concept was recently the hot topic at the Digital Hollywood Spring Conference, where I had the opportunity to moderate the panel entitled The Consumer Warrior: The Insatiable Appetite for Sports, Media, Fitness and Health Technology”. Our conversation quickly focused on the evolving “Quantified Self” movement and the idea that our always-on wearables are creating very useful data not only for ourselves, but for specific industries and the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that continue to test the market with new devices. While entitled the “Consumer Warrior”, it became evident in our discussion that this was, in many ways, about the future of the “Quantified Collective” — that aggregated data from multiple individuals holds inherent value in comparative trends and experiences that may be shared amongst a broader group, but with individual insights. If this data could then be processed to provide actionable info to consumers beyond our own interpretations, it would therefore hold more value and influence to not just the consumer, but also the product developer and their precise intention with the given wearable device.

So big picture, what does this all mean? When we consider the benefits to our health, the opportunities are endless for us to explore “whole health” in the wearables industry — how to improve systemic health analysis and the use of data to expand our understanding of our well-being. If I currently purchase a Basis Peak to track my heart-rate, perspiration, skin temperature, and sleep it will adapt and help me “train-up”— an insight I wouldn’t be able to experience on a daily basis without medical intervention until the introduction of devices like this. Taking it to the next level with comparative research and insights based on target lifestyles, diet choices, and professions, will help us better understand our whole health, but does anyone have the time in our busy lives to take it this far on our own?

Under Armor’s acquisitions of MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and EndoMondo were discussed on our panel, as they may create the right combination between nutrition and exercise info to provide a more balanced view of fitness and health, even though the acquired companies don’t actually make wearables. Under Armour’s partnership with HTC will, for the Grip wristband, close the gap here, but perhaps a strategy to integrate with smart fabrics may be around the corner? In either case, how the experience is presented visually with an eye to a longer-lifecycle for their products will be essential. A focus on user-experience design and a concerted effort to make the journey enjoyable is critical for the success of this industry — making sure that in the absence of always-actionable data we are creating “engagement loops” that go beyond the digestion of data and continuous numeric goals. Metaphors, fun interactions, games, and social components help create a bridge for the mass-consumer while the industry figures this precise formula out. After all, we don’t all have staff monitoring our every action like our friends at the Seattle Sounders (click here to see what we’re talking about). But then again, is a digital staff in our collective future? It just might be…we’ll let you in on how very soon…

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