Seeing into 2017: Fitness trackers’ chill, clinical and specialized wearables warm up

click to enlargeThe first in a series of brief projections for 2017. Fitness wearables aren’t even lukewarm anymore, and it’s visible in consolidation and the nay-saying articles. In late November, Fitbit bought one of the pioneers, Pebble, for a cut price of $40 million (TechCrunch). Fitbit shares are also cut price at below $7.50, whereas the 2015 IPO debuted at $50. Editor Charles’ favorite, Jawbone, is moribund; the springtime rumors of company sale and shutdown of the fitness band line have not been contradicted since [TTA 27 July]. Research/analytics company CB Insights calculated that 2015 wearable computing (a broader category) investment funding fell 63 percent from 2014 to a level comparable to 2012-13, in large part due to the cooling of the fitness segment.

A sure sign that fitness bands have chilled is negative play in the consumer press. ‘My fitness band has made me fat’, spun off the JAMA article [TTA 28 Sep], is now the theme of hilarious ‘dieters gone wild’ articles like this from the New York Post (warning, eye bleach photos!). But The Sun (UK) waves a warning flag that the information could be sold, sent to your employer or insurance company to profile and/or discriminate against you, or cyberhacked. All this can knock a pricey band off the Christmas shopping list. And no, it hasn’t shifted to smartwatches as most insiders predicted, as smartwatch sales have leveled off–as expected–until their functionality and appearance improve to justify their high price.

What’s in our crystal ball? Clinical-quality and specialized wearables will rise from these ashes.

  • Doctors are simply not interested in the current poor quality of data generated by current wearables–‘it’s worthless, Jim!’ ZDNet’s much-discussed article on this subject paradoxically stresses this, then focuses in on the clinical quality data generated by startup VivaLnk’s eSkin for temperature and stress. Clinical quality data is what is required for a health and wellness research partnership like the one recently announced by RTI and Validic.
  • Industry buzz is that Fitbit bought Pebble for its better IP, apps and stable of developers, not its smartwatch hardware, and that IP includes clinical quality measurement.  Other biosensor companies on the rise according to CB Insights are Thync, Thalmic Labs, YBrain and mCube.
  • In specialty wearables, there’s the recent funding success of Owlet, the High Cute Factor baby monitor sock. Lifebeam transfers multiple sensing technology to helmets and hats for richer data.

And if sensor patches develop with speed, in two to three years they may eliminate all of these!

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