The opportunity to further incorporate technology into our everyday lives is something that we quite rarely turn our backs on. Wearable technology provides no better example of this. Gathering and utilizing data from devices that we wear provides us with a channel to carry out all the actions we do with a smartphone, but in a much more effortless and seamless manner. Whether it’s smart watches, fitness trackers, intelligent clothing, or health tracking jewelry, wearing technology is beginning to become a social norm.
Wearables are defined as any smart device that can be worn on the body. Assuming we mean smart for its era, wearables can be dated back to the 16th Century when the first wearable clocks, ‘Nuremberg Eggs’, were invented . Fast forward to more modern times (2005-2014), and products such as Nike+, HugShirt, and Fitbit established themselves as pioneers in the modern wearable technology space and helped push the technology towards mainstream popularity. For some time, wearables remained a relatively niche market, utilized mostly by professional sportspeople and technologists. However, the introduction of Apple’s Smartwatch in 2015 caused a wave of new wearable devices, as some of the major tech companies started to heavily invest in the market.
Wearable devices come in all shapes and sizes, from rather unique ones, such as Aposema’s emotions tracking mask that allows us to read an individual’s emotional state instantaneously, or more common ones such as Fitbit’s activity tracker.
The wearables market has become one of the fastest growing in the technology world. According to CSS Insights, it will be worth an immense $34 billion dollars by 2020. Wearables are a form of technology that people will want to display on their bodies for all to see, and as a result, a whole new threshold in aesthetics opens up. It is not just size, power, and security that designers need to master, it’s fashion. If the device doesn’t have the right design aesthetic, no one is going to wear it. There has always been a strong consumer desire for wearables, but the challenge of having to meet contrasting consumer trends has meant that the interest in buying them hasn’t quite met expectations.
Health, however, is an area that shows great promise with regards to widespread wearables adoption and consumer buying interest. We are now living in the most health engaged era there has ever been . People are better informed and educated about the benefits that living a healthy lifestyle can bring. However, actually living a healthy lifestyle is still a challenge for many. Many people like to be encouraged to exercise and like goals, objectives, and coaching to motivate them. Wearable devices certainly have the capability to leverage this healthy lifestyle trend. Activity trackers can measure your physical activity and provide data on an abundance of measurables, such as heart rate and calories consumed. But the question arises as to how useful this raw data is for the average consumer. According to Endeavour Partners, a third of people who own an activity tracker stopped using it within 6 months of receiving it. Consumers need to be provided with actionable information that they can actually use to help improve their way of life. It’s about transforming data into personalized constructive feedback that the user can then use to live a healthier life.
Boundlss, one of our 2018 Hartford InsurTech Hub startups, uses AI (artificial intelligence) to provide customers with their own individual health coaching via chat in a mobile app. Shona Cotterill, Business Development Director of Boundlss, says that the personal health coach that Boundlss provides is like a personal trainer, but in a mobile app. She continues that “the coach reads people’s data from their wearables or fitness apps on their phones, and uses that information to give people personalised health coaching suggestions”. So Boundlss converts raw data into information that customers actually find useful, and, as a result, customers are much more likely to keep active and continue using their health wearables.
Wearables have a big part to play in the insurance industry. They already form part of the value chain for some insurers, such as Cigna, to encourage exercise. Essentially, data from wearables can be fed back to the insurer, and users receive benefits based on how active they have been. Shona highlights the growing trend from life and health insurers not to collect people’s premiums and simply wait for them to get sick. She says that insurers would rather “work with their customers to keep them fit and healthy and instead of paying claims, they want to be a trusted health and wellness partner that provides services to keep people from getting sick in the first place”.
The idea of pushing aside our trusty smartphone in favour of wearable devices is not inconceivable considering the potential of wearables. The trend for healthy living is providing wearables an opportunity to hit a new level of mainstream popularity. The technology is there, but a greater focus on design aesthetics and actionable insights is required if we want to see the market truly surge.