Just when I was thinking of buying a FitBit, I find out they are passé. We’re moving from “wearable” health devices to “invisible” health devices.
The health care wearables market is hot. The mobile health care device revenue is estimated to reach $41.8 billion by 2023 (see Mobile Health Device Market Valued At $5.1 Billion In 2013; Estimated To Reach $41.8 Billion By 2023) and the “wearables” sector of that is significant (see 20% Of Wearable Wireless Devices Deployed By 2017 Will Target The Health Care Market). And we’re seeing big names in the new wearable tech (see Intel Issues A ‘Make It Wearable’ Challenge To Change The Future Of Wearable Technology). But, the consumer-facing shape of these technologies is likely to change.
“The future of wearables is invisible. ‘Invisible’ means moving technology into the background. It’s putting human interaction and emotion back in the mix and respecting both.” This was the message of Stuart Karten, founder and president of Los Angeles–based design firm Karten Design, at the 2014 Body Computing Conference at the University of Southern California where he predicted that the winning health monitoring technologies will no longer occupy the standard physical space (wrist and head) on consumers. “Wearable technology, if it is to live up to the hype, is destined to disappear…becoming a seamless technology that can be integrated into the fabric of our everyday living.”
I think payers will push for the “invisible” if they are offered at or near the same price as wearables. Why? Because an obstacle to consumer adoption of many devices is visibility. Or put another way, the solution is “invisibility.” For example, take a moment to think about the original hearing aids (called ear trumpets). They were large, outside of the ear, and generally considered ugly. If consumers didn’t need them, or had other options, they would not have used them.
What does the new generation of “wearables” look like? According to Brian Buntz in his article, Why The Future Of Wearables Is Invisible, in Qmed, an example is the Vancive Medical Technologies’ wireless wearable patch, currently in use by the health gaming company Ayogo for a videogame where a jellyfish is triggered by the child’s heart rate (see I Heart Jellyfish: The iPhone Game That Rewards You For A Healthy Heartbeat). Mr. Buntz writes:
The trend of camouflaging devices to make them less intrusive and more socially acceptable will continue…This stands to benefit patients as camouflaged wearable medical devices “will help people to change behavior, adhere to new treatments, comply with medications, and integrate new health technologies.”
But patches aren’t the only “invisibles” out there. There are embedded chips – FDA Approves Implantable Chip Used to Access Medical Records. There are e-tattoos – Wearable Tech and Healthcare: UT Austin’s New E-Tattoo. There is an implant for sleep apnea – FDA approves first-of-a-kind sleep apnea implant. And, last night, I happened to be reading a flier from American Express, encouraging me to do “over the top” holiday shopping for my friends and family. One of the options was a GPS jacket (see NAVIGATE Jacket is GPS You Can Wear and GPS Coat Lights Up When You Need To Turn Left Or Right). It’s an invisible wearable.
Which of these many new tech offerings will triumph in this increasingly crowded space? Like all disruptive innovations, these early offerings need to get beyond the “wow” factor and prove their value to consumers in terms of both cost and convenience. And, early offerings need to beware of being replaced (all too soon) but a successive wave of even more disruptive innovations. It will be fun to watch!
To learn what is happening now in the tech-enabled consumer space, join us next week for the 2014 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute, in Washington D.C. on November 5 for the session, How To Create Tech-Enabled Consumers: Using Technology To Increase Consumer Engagement & Build Relationships, featuring: Jonathan Evans, President & Chief Executive Officer, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health; Deb L. Heggie, Ph.D., Corporate Chief Clinical Officer, Magellan Healthcare; Peter Antall, M.D., President & Chief Medical Officer, Online Care Group; Raymond T. Heipp, Ph.D., Director of Assistive and Educational Technologies, Westminster Technologies, Inc.; and OPEN MINDS Senior Associate George Braunstein, Senior Associate.