One day smartphones will know your body better than you do
By Mark Curtis of Fjord
Smartphones, tablets and the range of apps that run on these devices are transforming the health and lifestyle sector, and as technology continues to evolve at a lightning speed, the future landscape is a fascinating one.
Imagine a microchip in your tooth, which monitors your food intake and alerts you if you are being unhealthy; or glasses and contact lenses that act like an intuitive camcorder, recording special moments based on the emotional and physiological spikes of the wearer. Perhaps the ultimate healthcare app will monitor our body data, enabling the app to create a customised virus cocktail of medicine directly for each of us. The possibilities are many.
At the heart of this digital health revolution is the smartphone; it has evolved to become an essential object of our personal mobility in nearly every facet of life. It is gradually replacing our wallet and our keys, and now we wouldn’t dream of leaving our homes without it. However, the smartphone is set to go through more transformations. I predict that the smartphone will evolve to become a ‘soulmate’ device that knows your body better than you know it yourself. The soulmate device will be the first fusion where biology and electronics merge, essentially an interface into the self. It will know and understand your genome, it will become aware of your habits and cravings meaning it could have an autonomous dialogue with the coaches, trainers and expert systems that you have empowered to help you live healthier and perform better.
What is enabling the mobile phone to reach soulmate status? For starters, it is the fact that we have moved on from the days of services aimed at early adopters and now the trend for uploading apps and sensor-enabled devices has come to the mainstream, bringing the pursuit of wellbeing to everyone. Nike Fuelband is a great example of one product which many around the world are already using to monitor one aspect of their health — exercise in real-time. At the same time, people are using web apps as a rich source for diagnostics, for researching treatment options, and most importantly, for connecting with other like-minded individuals to exchange experiences and information. This trend includes displaying information in more user-friendly ways, for example on a tablet device, as well as the use of such platforms as enablers of next generation medical equipment. One example of the latter is an ECG attachment for the iPhone capable of producing medical-grade data. These devices and applications mean that your personal health data can be quantified and measured, giving you greater insight into yourself than ever before. In fact it is the emergence of other sensor-enabled devices that connect to the smartphone (either via a socket, wifi or Bluetooth) that will act as the tipping point. If the smartphone/soulmate cannot do it all, it can always phone a friend.
In the future, this soulmate device will act like an intuitive mirror or lens into your life; it could track changes in your skin, patterns on your tongue, and it could analyse your breath for anomalies. As such, it will have the ability to see the future, as it can compute masses of previously gathered data to predict how you will react in certain circumstances.
The soulmate device could also become an indispensable tool for diagnosis when you travel. It will enable you to scan your children and connect you with the right information for their health while abroad. It will help you decide if you should involve a doctor and could also start numerous parallel medical analyses. The soulmate will use its sensors to generate medically robust data that can be packaged into the right physician-friendly format. The smartphone as a soulmate won’t be a replacement for the doctor, but it will augment personal health management as never before, paving the way for much more informed conversations about your health.
The devices and services that will be most successful are those which improve daily life by being centred on people’s needs and desires. Services will need to be embedded in current human behaviours and interactions and we’ll have to pay close attention to the interactions we have in the healthcare ecosystem and explore how people want to monitor their health.
However, we must move with caution so we do not fall fate to the futures some predict: a life where technology could help us become infinitely more physically capable. Superhero like powers of endurance, strength, agility and a combination of external technologies and genetic engineering could make us perceive the universe in a dramatically different way to now. Nobody wants to watch a global event like the Olympics in a future where the competition is less about strength, talent and skill, and more about pharmaceutical companies, each with their own brand of genetically — or even physically — modified athlete.
In the same way digital has transformed every business, the health and wellness space is on the cusp of significant change. It’s an exciting time and the possibilities are truly infinite. The smartphone sits at the heart of this transition and has a transformative role to play in how we’ll look after our health in the future. Ultimately, however, it will be how these services are designed that will play an integral role in overcoming the challenges and seizing the opportunities in the digital health space: services will have to be designed that can be accessed by anyone, regardless of their age, gender, language or indeed, smartphone they use. Those companies that quickly adopt digital and mobile innovations across their health and wellness offerings will find new opportunities — and tough ethical and behavioural challenges — rapidly coming their way.