Wearables: it’s a journey, but is it really necessary?

click to enlargeIncreasingly, not in the opinion of many. We’ve covered earlier [TTA 21 Dec, 6 Feb] the wearables ‘bust’ and consumer disenchantment affecting fitness-oriented wearables. While projections are still $19 bn by 2018 (Juniper Research), Jawbone is nearly out of business with one last stab at the clinical segment, with Fitbit missing its 2016 earnings targets–and planning to target the same segment. So this Washington Post article on a glam presentation at SXSW of a Google/Levi’s smart jeans jacket for those who bicycle to work (‘bike’ and ‘bikers’ connote Leather ‘n’ Harleys). It will enable wearers to take phone calls, get directions and check the time by tapping and swiping their sleeves, with audio information delivered via headphone. As with every wearable blouse, muumuu, and toque she’s seen, this Editor’s skepticism is fueled by the fact that the cyclist depicted has to raise at least one hand to tap/swipe said sleeves and to wear headphones. He is also sans helmet on a street, not even a bike path or country lane. All are safety Bad Doo-Bees. Yes, the jacket is washable as the two-day power source is removable. But while it’s supposed to hit the market by Fall, the cost estimate is missing. A significant ‘who needs it?’ factor.

Remember the Quantified Selfer’s fascination with sleep tracking and all those sleep-specific devices that went away, taking their investors’ millions with them? Fitbit and many smartwatches work with apps to give the wearer feedback on their sleep hygiene, but the devices and apps themselves can deliver faulty information. This is according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine called “Orthosomnia: Are Some Patients Taking the Quantified Self Too Far?” (abstract) by Kelly Glazer Baron, MD with researchers from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “The patients’ inferred correlation between sleep tracker data and daytime fatigue may become a perfectionistic quest for the ideal sleep in order to optimize daytime function. To the patients, sleep tracker data often feels more consistent with their experience of sleep than validated techniques, such as polysomnography or actigraphy.” In the Rush University Medical Center article on the study, Dr Baron notes that the quest for ‘orthosomnia’ or ‘correct sleep’ can be pursued to the point of anxiety–and worse sleep. The devices “are unable to accurately discriminate stages of sleep.” “They are not able to differentiate between light and deep sleep.” and “they might call it sleep when you’re reading in bed.” Another reason not to buy! iMedicalApps Hat tip to Dave Albert, MD, of AliveCor via Twitter

One approach to wearables that has real ‘who needs it’ merit are those which can accurately and unobtrusively track and send clinical-grade data. Polymer optical fibres (POFs) which are melt-spun and embroidered are being tested by Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) for heart rate detection. This is done by shining light onto the skin and measuring minute changes in the reflected light. This can also detect a developing pressure sore–painful and dangerous. In future, it will be tested for blood oxygenation and metabolic content near the skin’s surface. The study abstract is in Journal of the Royal Society-InterfaceMedgadget

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