Know thyself: why wearable tech is bigger than watches

The first time a friend of mine showed me her Nike Fuel Band I presumed my health-obsessed buddy was just going through another phase. It felt like a fashionable gimmick. She had the shoes, so why not the bracelet too? Like her stint with the Atkins diet, I just assumed she would soon tire of her health band and move onto something else. After a 30 minute in-depth lecture on her daily step average, PB run times and the exact details of just how many minutes she could keep her heart rate above 100 beats per minute, I can tell you, I really hoped she’d find the next fad fast. Just enjoy your run, I thought to myself. Why do you need a little band to tell you all that pointless information about yourself?

That was in 2013. But today, wearable technology is a booming, multi-billion dollar industry and our desire for data about ourselves is showing no sign of decline. In fact, consumer spending on wearable tech is estimated to hit $1.4 billion this year and $19 billion by 2018. And studies have found:

  • 80 percent of internet users look for health information online.
  • 27 percent of U.S. Internet users had tracked health data online
  • 18 percent had sought to locate others with similar health concerns via the internet.

Essentially, we are becoming increasingly fascinated with information about ourselves.

At the same time, wearables are becoming ever more convenient, accurate, adaptable and integrated. Unlike prehistoric ‘wearables’ like the Medical ID bracelet, the majority of wearable devices on market now are consumer products, and take away the need to engage in personal doctor visits to get basic information such as heart rate or blood pressure. And when it comes to our health and wellbeing, it’s clear that scientists and developers are just getting started.

Take Sonny Vu, creator of the first FDA approved glucose sensor iBGStarVu created a glucose meter that integrates with your phone and an adjacently running app measures, analyses, and alerts users on insulin levels. By integrating his product with a phone, something no one leaves the house without, Vu was able to create a product that “you don’t have to remember to use”. Vu’s product provides a remote monitoring service, which, as Vu puts it, ‘makes the doctor’s office seem archaic’.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2015), we saw a large focus on smart watches, such as the Alcatel OneTouch – one of many playing catch-up with the Apple Watch. But is the smart watch the red herring of the wearable tech world? Are consumers just jumping on board to the next fashion gimmick? Do we really need another watch?

For those health obsessed consumers looking for the most intuitive wearable to help them monitor their wellbeing, then take a look at the AmpStrip, which is essentially a plaster and won ‘The Best at CES’ award. Unlike the clunky, charger dependent smart-watches, the AmpStrip can be worn but not felt and can measure endless data in comparison to the limited capacity of most smart-watches. What sets the AmpStrip even further apart is that unlike a watch, the user doesn’t feel like they need to remove it to sleep, shower, or dress. It can be comfortably worn all day because it easily sticks to your torso while it automatically tracks heart rate, activity, exercise load, skin temperature and posture and it can be wirelessly charged. Meaning you literally never have to take it off.

Considering the vast development of innovative wearable devices seen at CES, it seems the demand for wearable health tech is showing no sign of stalling. There’s certainly an appetite for the functionality wearable’s offer. But form is everything. The next challenge is for developers to find the most intuitive form to fulfill our desire to know our quantified selves. 

  • Jessica Reihana is a content creator at Saatchi & Saatchi. 
  • This story originally appeared on saatchi.co.nz/thinking. 

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