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Is the Wearable Market About to Explode?

Is the Wearable Market About to Explode?

By Rick Valencia
Rick Valencia (@bootstrapped) is the founder and General Manager of Qualcomm's newly launched wireless health business, Qualcomm Life.

With Samsung & Apple both making big announcements (if not actually putting out products) and more and more venture money going into trackables of all kinds-including $120m for "chip in pill" maker Proteus-in the last 10 days, there's tons of hype about consumer tracking in lots of modalities. Qualcomm is the guts behind lots of the chips and technologies that these all use, and have seeded the market with their 2Net data utility layer. (FD I am on the Qualcomm Life advisory board but own no stock). But is the hype justified? Qualcomm Life's President Rick Valencia is an optimist, and you'll hear from him at Health 2.0 this Fall - Matthew Holt

Look around. Chances are, someone around you is wearing one right now. I'm not talking about a baseball cap or a pair of minimalist running shoes. I'm talking about a connected device--a "wearable"--a fitness band, a smart watch, a pair of smart glasses...of maybe even connected clothing.

Ready or not, the wearable market is about to explode.

Right now, fitness-related wearables dominate the market--about 90 percent according to a February CNET report quoting Accenture. But by 2018, the market will expand, to where three categories--fitness/activity trackers, smart watches and infotainment, health care and medical categories--will take over 70% of the wearable space says ABI Research. In that same year, you also probably won't have to look too hard for someone with a wearable, research firm IDC says the number of devices out there will be 118 million.

I too think we're only touching the tip of the iceberg with wearables. There's a lot of opportunity out there, not just in form factors but what's possible with function and value.

Consider fitness bands. They give users real-time feedback on performance and, if you can upload the data to the cloud, onto a platform where you can compare your latest event with previous events, they are a great way to gauge progress. In addition, these cloud-based platforms give wearable device makers a place to begin engaging with customers.

These fitness applications are great, but can we go further?

Think beyond the simple fitness band or heart rate monitor. What about leveraging the same concept for all health care monitoring devices--giving yourself and your health care provider a clear view of what's going on inside you during various situations, environments, temperatures, etc? All that data, coming from all of us? It's possible. The technology side is coming together.

Think about it: advanced wireless networks, offering speeds and bandwidth that rival "old fashioned" wired networks (I work for a wireless company so I am slightly biased) have been launched all around the world. Moreover, the processing technology is increasingly more powerful, more feature rich and (amazingly) more energy efficient.

With these critical pieces in place, it's possible to begin building that "Internet of Everything" we've all envisioned. The Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE could be one of those connected things that has the potential to transform health care--imagine sophisticated sensors integrated into a single device that will literally be used as a home diagnostic kit, as common as a thermometer.

I believe it's just a matter of the devices maturing and becoming more widespread.

The higher-end devices today are already connected to the cloud in one way or another--giving you and/or your health care professional instant access. It's only a matter of time before:

  • Nearly all--low to high-end--devices offer the same connectivity
  • Embedded sensors will just be a given, in our jewelry, accessories and clothing
  • Temporary body patches and injectables for the most serious or localized uses, such as in health care facilities. Imagine checking into an urgent care facility at which point the receptionist places a patch on you that takes your vitals and wirelessly transmits them to a secure, centralized repository where the doctor can review before he sees you (already done by nurse before visit).

Going back to the benefits to the individual, I believe we're only on the cusp of what's possible.

Sure, you can currently track some interesting vitals such as resting heart rate, body temp... even locations and moods. And maybe you can upload them into proprietary cloud systems to view past performance. Ideally, you will be able to see all of your health care data across multiple devices, apps and environmental sensors to give you a contextual, actionable and holistic view of your health. That's the value to individual users.

There's also value to the wearables manufacturers themselves. Fitness data establishes a beachhead for companies to engage with their key audiences. Imagine, whenever someone uploads information from his or her wearable into a community database, a conversation can be initiated between user and device maker.

Look at it this way: Today's wearable technology is helping people build a mental model of the possible uses and benefits of digital health.

So if we look at all the potential in front of us, in front of the wearables category, you'll realize that the category is really in its infancy. In fact, 10 years from now, we'll look at today's devices like we look at the 8-track players now. Or the way we look at mobile phones from 10 years ago.

Personally, I'm pretty excited about what's being developed right now and what's to come from wearables.

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