BLOG STARTUPS, VENTURE AND THE TECH BUSINESS

October 2 2014
by Todd Hixon

The New, New Digital-Health-Wearable Products

[This post first appeared at blogs.forbes.com/toddhixon on September 30, 2014.]

Health 2.0, which took place last week in Silicon Valley, offered a runway display of digital health wearables (“DHWs”). Models strutted while entrepreneurs pitched their products, giving an overview of what the new, new DHW things are in the Valley. My take: health wearables are growing up. They are becoming more capable, refined, and targeted to specific user segments. As products they have deeper appeal but also narrower. This probably reflects the impending arrival of 1200 pound gorilla general purpose wearables like iWatch. Hopefully the market will grow enough to enable many flowers to bloom. Here’s a run-down.

Spire offered a sensor and app that provides feedback on focus and calmness. It’s an attractive device that can be worn multiple ways; the model wore it as a necklace. I am guessing it will appeal to Yoga practitioners and allied groups. The woman who modeled it was quite zen.

Evoke offers brain activity and and heart rate and rate variability (HRV) sensors that gather data via a set of high-end headphones and an arm band. They pair via Bluetooth with the Evoke app and “about 100 other iOS apps”. Evoke offers a game that you can win by increasing your biofeedback control over your biometrics. They appear to be targetting people seeking a deeper level of biometrics or have concerns about heart rate variability.

Adidas showed the MiCoach heart rate monitoring shirt: a heart rate monitor built into an exercise shirt. It pairs with an app that reports and records heart rate as the wearer exercises. The model got my “I’m confortable in my skin award”: he is a 40-something guy with a real-world body type, walking the runway in the company of more typical models.

Sensoria presented its smart sock: a very sophisticated motion sensor built into a nice pair of cushioned socks. They argue that running with wrong form (e.g., heel-strike) is harmful. Smart socks detect running form: where you land on your foot and cadence.

Netatmo offers an attractive wrist device that reports UV exposure and alerts if exposure is too great. The device I saw was roughly the size of a watch but looked like an item of jewelry. UV warnings are useful for anyone and especially those at risk due to skin type or medical status. But I wondered if this sensor will not quickly become a feature of general purpose wearables, considering that we can only wear two wrist devices and many prefer one.

Withings showed its Activité activity sensor, which looks like a watch you would buy in Paris or Geneva, but incorporates activity and sleep sensors and an extra hand that registers progress to daily exercise goal. Watches are one of the few forms of acceptable jewelry for men, which drives much of demand for high-end watches. Withings, a French company, is bringing that value proposition together with health/fitness tracking, aiming to extend the health wearables value proposition to a new segment. I wonder, however, if buyers will be slow to spend thousands of dollars for these watches until the technology, feature set, and standards for health wearables mature and stabilize.

Misfit presented Shine, an elegant activity monitor worn as a necklace or on the wrist with a variety of bands. It seems to be targeted to very active people who wear a dedicated activity monitor constantly: the Shine is waterproof to 50 meters and has a replaceable watch battery that provides 6 month battery life.

Health 2.0 came right after Apple’s announcement of the iWatch, iPhone 6/6+, and related iOS features such as HealthKit. Most of the DHW entrepreneurs at Health 2.0 had little to say about iWatch or HealthKit, probably because they had not yet worked out their strategies and positioning. However, my take from the gamut of products above is: the DHW entrepreneurs are going for deeper and more segment-specific value add to give them differentiation from Apple’s thrust to dominate general purpose wrist wearables. That makes sense, and it indicates that the market is entering a new phase, like the car market after the Model T: brands differentiate to appeal to different preferences and budgets: e.g., Chevys, Cadillacs, and Jeeps. Lets hope that the volume and adoption grow fast enough to enable many of these offerings to succeed.

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