Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Future of Wearables is More than Devices

In its February trends snapshot, Blueshift Research found that 40% of Americans made no change over the last six months when it came to living habits such as diet, exercise, sleep etc., up six points from a year ago.

The “no change” group is where I was over the last several decades despite periodically committing to do better.

Unfortunately, nearly 17% responded to the survey that their living habits had actually worsened, 3.1% significantly so over the six month span since this trend was last measured.

The good news is that during that same span 43% of us felt they had improved their living habits, 7% significantly.  A 2008 study calculated that “inactivity” costs the U.S. $76 billion in healthcare spending.

So I often wonder what finally made me shift gears 19 months ago after years of resolutions and wasted gym memberships.

Was it finally finding a spiritual connection while walking each morning?

Was it having a significant other to do that with, which has been expanded to include weight conditioning twice a week?

Was it using a fitness tracker and a linked app to track the caloric content of various foods I was eating?

Was it being confronted by a tiny belly roll when a portrait was hung to honor three of us just before I retired?

Was it that first sign of a film like build up in one of my carotid arteries?

Intrigued, I’ve been trying to reverse engineer what made me finally get serious.

It is not as though my doctor hadn’t been cautionary for several years about normalizing the level of triglycerides levels in my blood.

I always see the waiting room at the clinic where I get annual physicals full of people who are in much worse shape than I was and seemingly oblivious to the inappropriateness of yoga pants or having to lean over to see their shoes..

Medicare is now going to start holding doctors accountable for patient changes by calibrating what they are paid to outcomes.  But I am not sure how much more they can do to cajole each of us into accepting personal responsibility for our health.

Two years ago, a Pew Study found that 45% of U.S. adults are dealing with at least one chronic health condition but 7-in-10 overall keep track of a health indicator including 19% who have no chronic conditions.

But only a fifth use technological devices such as wearables with nearly half doing so only in their head.

Last year’s report by Endeavor Partners found that 1-in-10 adult Americans owned a fitness tracker, 1-in-4 between the ages of 25 and 34.  Unfortunately, more than half no longer use it and a third stopped using it within six months.

Key for sustainable use, according to the report, are 3 behavioral factors: habit formation, social motivation and goal reinforcement along with 6 other factors such as utility, design, fit, out of the box experience etc.

Fitbit, the one I have used since early 2010 when it came out, appeared to score highest overall among the eight different fitness “wearables” measured in the report.

Juniper Research projects that use of fitness devices and wearables will triple by 2018.  Some analysts project these devices will reach 48% market penetration worldwide by then.

A new Pew study shows that 64% of Americans now own Smartphones, double the proportion from just four years ago.  Smartphones have also rapidly become the means by which low income and disadvantaged Americans go online.

More than 60% of Smartphone owners use their phones to get health information, 57% to do online banking, 43% to look up job information and 30% to take a class or get educational content.

Making outdoor billboard advertising even more obsolete, more than 67% of smartphone owners use their phone for turn-by-turn navigation while driving, 32% do so frequently, compared to less than 1% of Americans who still rely on a billboard.

But wearables such as those for fitness and health are set to make “interruption” advertising such as billboards even more obsolete, according to PwC.

They will accelerate even faster the rapid transition to interest-based, content marketing but only when relevant and needed now.

Studies have shown that the three-decade decline in the effectiveness of traditional advertising has reached a negative return on investment overall.

Fitness and wellness apps are on track to more than sextuple by next year from what they were in 2010.  But a report issued last year by PwC shows plenty of reasons that businesses and organizations will soon get involved, too.

Already, 70% of consumers “say they would wear employer-provided wearable devices streaming anonymous data to a pool in exchange for a break on their insurance premiums” something that will obviously catch the attention of insurers in Obamacare exchanges.

The World Health Organization recommends that people get 30 active minutes a day.  A premium feature of the device I wear shows on a bell curve where I fall compared to men my age and weight as well as other demographics overall.

Telling is that at 30 “very” active minutes on average per day, I am in the 89th percentile for my group, or over 185% of the median. For many weeks I average over 40, over 300% of the median.

This means that, unfortunately, I am in the top 11% and regularly in the top 3%.

The center of that bell curve is only 6 “very” active minutes.  Even scarier is that I am 400% over the median for many of those people waiting in my doctor’s office.

People are nearly twice as likely to purchase and use fitness bands and smart watches if employers pay for them.  But the future of wearables goes beyond fitness.

More than half of the adults in the survey agree that automated facial recognition will replace the need to remember names, 56% say life expectancy will increase an average of 10 years and 46% believe wearables will decrease obesity.

But wearables, even for fitness, are rapidly moving beyond devices.  A report yesterday by KUED notedthat consumers are already moving to biometric clothing such as Hexoskin which report metrics beyond those done by devices.

Another by Athos is designed to help with weight and flexibility training.  Analysts project that sales of fitness device wearables will soon plateau or go down due to the overlap between smart wristbands and smart or sports watches.

But sales of smart garments such as Athos are projected to grow to 26 million units next year, up 2,600 times what they were in 2013 and more than two and a half times what they will be this year.

It will be interesting to see if they have a sustained impact on the overall health outcomes for Americans.

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