Wearables Panel Session

Simon Forrest from Imagination, Ruth Hutchinson from Fitbug and Ulrich Schulze-Althoff from Medisana joined the panel session on wearables.

Simon Forrest is from Imagination Technologies which believes it has lots of the elements needed to be successful in wearables. Ruth Hutchinson is Business Director of Fitbug, which has been working since 2005 with companies and health authorities and using a health and activity tracker. Ulrich Schulze Althoff is Managing Director of Medisana which makes devices for healthcare that is sold to end users. The firm currently makes and sells around one million devices per year.

Fashion is a real challenge because the fashions change so quickly. Wearables also have a status element – triathletes may like to spend thousands of euros on particular wearables. Hutchinson has pink, white and black devices to allow some choice and even has a version that can be fitted to underwear! Many of the smartwatches on the market seem to be designed for men, rather than for women.

Battery life is “the elephant in the room”. Forrest said that at the moment, wearables are designed around mobile phone chips, but in the future, new chip designs will re-balance the power budgets and there will be chips that have battery lives in months. Hutchinson said that many users get very frustrated about battery life, so the company has developed trackers that last 6 months. The Fitbug interacts with a mobile app so that the display and graphics processing is done there. Althoff said that battery life can really be an issue if you are talking about, for example, blood sugar measurement.

Schulze said that medical product laws are an important point for wearables, although there are really two markets: end consumer sports and end consumer patients. Certification can be difficult in Europe, where laws vary from country to country.

There is a global issue around obesity and inactivity, said Hutchinson. Fitbug is collaborating with organisations which are encouraging employees to be fitter and healthier at work – Fitbug is one of the measures that can be put in place. For instance, Fitbug can provide software such as a virtual walking challenge, which is a company-wide initiative and contest. These filter down into improved productivity and reduced absenteeism, as well as keeping the workforce healthy so they are less likely to claim on private insurance. Fitbug also works with insurers around the world, as part of private insurance packages.

Gray asked if Fitbug had had to conduct clinical trials and have the device signed off by doctors? The data is not too medical or clinical, said Hutchinson, so there really is no need. A real benefit, aside from fitter employees, is to lower organisations’ health premiums.

Insurers are increasingly looking at wearables, according to Schulze. He believes that there will be a period of trials, followed by large-scale deployments. Blood screening could then be compared against a wide amount of data gathered by fitness devices. Doctors are not fast-tech adopters – they do not know how to use big data yet. Systems need to be connected to each other, he said: the doctor, the health insurer, etc. This would push the market towards wearables.

An audience member asked, what will be the next big application for wearables – other than health? Forrest believes that smartwatches are going to be big; vendors are now thinking about the use-cases. The same for smartglasses, which Imagination is looking at now with great interest. Hutchinson said that people are now thinking about how wearables can support them in their everyday life: something on the wrist that will turn lights on and off, close the curtains or turn the kettle on without getting up – although this kind of goes against the health aspect!

Wearables are getting smaller and smaller and measuring more and more data, Schulze said. The base technology is the same, but is being vastly improved by advances in other areas, like smartphone sensors. Small sensors in everyday life is the next big thing for us.

Something that people didn’t even imagine when it was first developed was wearables to track an earthquake, said Forrest. The BBC had an article showing that a wearable company was able to track the epicentre of the recent Californian earthquake by seeing when people woke up! That’s a previously unthought-of use.

Whatever the wearables market is like, half say yes and half say no, said Gray. If asked if they want to be seen wearing a fitness band, half will say, “Yes, it’s my lifestyle” and the other will say, “No, I’m on a diet!”. This will lead to a huge amount of diversity in the market.

Market fragmentation is an issue, Hutchinson said. Retailers are now looking at how to split wearables up by category, such as those for very sporty people and those that just want to take the dog for a walk every day.

People will not tend to wear more than one wristband at a time, said Schulze. If you’re travelling from the UK to Germany, how many of you wear two watches? No, you just change it by an hour. Vendors will put in several chips that can handle different applications: a bit like a smartphone, where one device serves for entertainment, connectivity and work. Keeping four or six wristbands updated and charged at once would be annoying.

Forrest favours aggregating data from several devices and putting it into a cloud-based server. For instance, a cyclist might have a tracker on their bike and a wristband for when they walk.

Gray then brought up the topic of gamification. He has tried three different wristbands this year, which all interact with him differently: one teased him with small rewards, while another sent him emails about other actions he could take and how he could change his diet. Anecdotally, he said that members of the NPD Group’s executive team had all purchased wristbands this year and ended up competing against each other to see who could drink more water in a day, as well as for steps taken.

Gamification and the software are very important, Forrest and Hutchinson agreed. How the data can be made relevant to consumers, engaging them with health goals, is “crucial” to keep people engaged with their devices and health.

If you’re a hardware manufacturer, as Medisana was until 2009, you basically have no idea about software, he said – you end up needing a separate team inside your company to work with software. They need to be in the company; using an agency, the software engineers are not on-hand and don’t add to the value of your company. The hardware can be the commodity, but the app is the differentiator and the interface.

Competition is important for engagement, Hutchinson noted. However, sometimes too much can turn people off. Sometimes you need to provide a lighter touch, such as simply encouraging them to simply move a little more in a day.

How would you treat, say, a taxi driver differently to another user, asked Gray? We look at the 80-20 rule, said Hutchinson. You have the 10% who are very engaged, the 10% who will never engage and the 80% on the fence. It’s important to make sure that the programme is personalised. New Fitbug users are asked not to act differently for the first week that they are using it, and it then recommends personal targets, which are more achievable and thus more engaging.

The main thing is to show the taxi driver the things that he can’t see himself, said Schulze. If he is shown that his back will hurt in a month’s time if he doesn’t change anything, he is more likely to take action. He personally thinks that within 3-5 years it will be hard to buy a device that is not internet-connected – and consumers might steer away from those that are not.