Wearable Tech: More than a Numbers Game?

Wearable fitness devices have come a long way in the past year, moving from being a simple step counter to a device that helps to track calories, heart-rate, and more. But the next “step” forward will be far more exciting - taking these devices from a singular experience to one that pulls in more data from all around us.

Take for example, the calorie counting options available today. If I walk into a fast-food restaurant today, I buy what I want, and then confess to my app later – which typically rewards me with a shocking number of calories consumed. It’s a flawed system if I’m planning to lose weight because the shame comes in hindsight, rather than as a pre-emptive strike. But my wearable – or more accurately, the related app on my smartphone – knows that I’ve entered the restaurant and should be a tad bossier with me. The next generation device will “yell” at me before I consume the largest burger I can find and will suggest a better option, by searching for low-calorie options on the menu.

In other words, just as with the smartphone, the wearable will really become a much more powerful device once we add context. And this is not just about food intake. Consider the approach that Jawbone is taking, rapidly adding connections to third party apps to expand our ability to document our daily activity. I can now use Strava for my bike ride or a run, and see the results inside the Jawbone UP app; and I can add a feed from Automatic – the car tracking hardware – to include driven journeys. Not only does this result is a more complete picture of my day, but it helps to explain some of my behavior. For example, if I’m driving, I’m not going to be taking any steps. Tying both pieces of activity into one app makes this patently obvious, but without the driving details, I would be second-guessing my lack of activity on certain days (which I probably should be doing anyway).

The bottom line is that the next generation of wearables – and related apps – need to add more contextual information, and leverage this data to guide me more proactively. After all, the advantage of the wearable being tethered to the smartphone is that there is a significant amount of computing power available to do clever things. By keeping me engaged with the app, I am more likely to keep wearing the device, rather than forgetting to grab it post-charge.

I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg here, and there is clearly plenty more to discuss. And so we shall, hopefully, at SXSW next March where a panel including Shel Israel, Billie Whitehouse, myself, and Simon Pearce will look at the contextual implications for wearable tech.  Vote to get the panel added to the SXSW lineup.