Market adoption for wearables has been growing at extraordinary rates in the last year (163% according to IDC) and is expected to continue rapid growth through the next 4-5 years. The majority of that growth has been from relatively young and fit people tracking their levels of fitness and activity in one form or another.

Forrester Research, Consumer Technology Survey 2015

Forrest Research, Consumer Technology Survey 2015

There is so much more we can and should be doing with wearables today, but the technology has advanced much faster than the associated user experiences and consumer value. In order for wearables to continue on these growth paths, the consumer value enabled by these devices MUST catch up to the sensor technology powering these devices. While usage statistics are improving, too many people are still abandoning these devices after just a few months of purchase, and most indicators point to the fact that wearables are not providing compelling user experiences that continue to add value over time. A common refrain reported in our Biometrics Lab by users of popular wearables is: “I kept getting the same information each day…nothing new, so I lost interest.”

Endeavor Partners, Inside Wearables – Part 2, July 2014

Endeavor Partners, Inside Wearables - Part 2, July 2014

Fitness and health will continue to be one of the primary reasons people buy wearables, but wearables need to start providing personalized insights and guidance over time that help keep users engaged. One path to long-term engagement with wearables will come from helping people connect the dots between the data wearables can collect and overall personal health insights. If your biometric wearable is powered by accurate, validated biometric sensor technology, then it already has the ability to deliver meaningful personal health assessments over time. The problem is that no products in the market today actually deliver on these capabilities.

So let’s look at what is possible today to connect the dots between fitness and health with wearables:

First, it all starts with highly-accurate, motion-tolerant biometric measurements from the wearable device itself. The vast majority of biometric wearables today use optical sensors to measure heart rate and other biometrics using a methodology called PPG. However, only a few products can measure heart rate accurately enough to enable health assessments. Check out this post on PPG if you want more detail on the technology and why it’s so difficult to do right.

Second, getting a highly accurate PPG signal from optical sensors enables a large number of advanced biometrics to be measured and assessed through PPG. Based on the research of our Biometrics Lab, here are some of the most common biometric data that can be made available in wearables today:

  • Continuous heart rate
  • Heart rate response
  • Continuous RRi (used to measure heart rate variability)
  • Continuous breathing rate
  • VO2 and VO2 max
  • Continuous energy expenditure (calorie burn)
  • Cardiac efficiency

Third, the advanced biometric measurements enable a wide variety of fitness and health assessments that can provide long-term engagement for wearables users. For example, most people are aware that resting heart rate is inversely correlated to fitness levels – the lower your resting heart rate, the higher your fitness levels. However, many people don’t know that steadily increasing resting heart rate is correlated with the progression of cardiovascular disease [Arnold, Fox, Nauman]. Moreover, resting heart rate can be difficult to assess, as the timing of measurement can be critical, and cardiac efficiency can be more reproducible proxy for cardiovascular health assessments.

Here are some other assessments and what they mean for both fitness and overall personal health:

Fitness-to-Health Assessements

These are just a few of the personal health insights that are possible today and should be readily available in wearables of all kinds. We should expect more. The user experiences are not delivering on the potential that today’s technology allows, but that is starting to change. In 2016, you will start to see products that begin to close the gap between the capabilities of the technology and valuable, engaging user experiences. Stay tuned for some exciting developments in this area!