June 23, 2014

A new report from Rock Health looking at the future of the biosensor wearables market shows a market in transition. The next generation of wearables is more targeted towards patient populations, particularly chronic conditions. In a Google hangout about the report, Malay Gandhi, a co-author of the report, talked about some of the qualities that are making these wearables more appealing to consumers and the b2b market and features that will give them staying power.

Athletic trackers aimed at the mass market have lost ground Nike’s exit from the wearables market shows there are far more fitness tracking devices than the market can support. There’s also a certain amount of consumer fatigue because the accuracy of fitness bands can vary. It’s difficult to keep most consumers interested in using them after six months. That prompted The New York Times article comparing these wristbands to “digital snake oil.” Another problem is the marketing. Companies have pursued an aspirational market. Rather than focusing on specific-use cases, they have taken a generic, mass market approach with the expectation that consumers will get it and see their inherent value. The successful companies will the ones that can diversify and show how their wearables applies to specific needs. Commoditization has forced companies to develop more sophisticated tools.

The impact of smartphones, ACA Smartphones have catalyzed the market for biosensor wearables. Wearables can offload the display through software apps, computing and Internet connectivity to a smartphone. Bluetooth has made the transfer of data between devices and smartphones energy efficient. The Affordable Care Act has spurred the pursuit of value-based care. Insurers and employer wellness plans see in these wearables the potential for an objective source of truth to reward incentives for reaching wellness objectives, or how the member is falling short.

Big players could mean less fragmentation  The reluctance by wearable companies to align themselves with one network has led to more fragmentation. But with the entrance of Samsung and Apple into the wearables market as well as Google’s contact lens for non-invasive glucose monitoring in January this year show that this could change in the near future.

The report also highlights three specific areas in which biosensor wearables need to evolve. Companies will need to focus on clinical endpoints and will have to be more committed to their technology passing clinical muster if their products are to be taken seriously by the medical and scientific community.

Functionality This is what determines the wearable’s potential usefulness to users. Gandhi’s example of Lumoback — a posture improvement tool — gives feedback on posture and instructs users on what they need to do to improve it. That’s something that a heart rate tracker cannot do as effectively.

Reliability The need for valid data for clinical decisions requires the ability to consistently generate accurate data. FDA clearance is critical to building  b2b customers across physician practices and hospitals that many biosensing wearable companies are chasing. A good example of a biosensor wearable company that’s meeting this demand is the maker of the swallowable pill tracker Helius by Proteus.

Convenience goes hand in hand with engagement. Without convenience, companies lose engagement, or as Gandhi put it, “it falls right off a cliff.” It’s also one of the toughest things to get right. Packaging and insights on the user experience are critical to making it work. Gandhi pointed to Spire, a tool that tracks respiration. It can be used for COPD or asthma and other respiratory illnesses. It can be worn in several different places and supports wireless charging.


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