Tuesday, 19 November 2013

2014 digital predictions sandbox #1 - personal health monitors

I’m in the process of developing some predictions for what will happen in digital in 2014 and thought that I’d post them here to get some wisdom from my readers! Some of these will be positive, some might be busting some myths about categories that have captured the zeitgeist. Now, more than ever, comments will be greatly appreciated.

First up: personal health monitoring

My prediction: although they will be the subject of much media interest, personal health monitoring devices will remain niche in 2014, with sales in the category remaining below $250Mn globally.

What am I talking about? Personal health monitors are wearable devices that measure the movement of the body in order to inform the user about their level of activity and its relation to their wellbeing. The most common type are bracelets that measure steps, for example Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone Up and FitBit, but there are more specialised devices such Spire, which measures breathing and Sensoria, a connected sock that shows how the foot is striking the ground during running. These devices come with an application and related ecosystem that shows the user how they are performing and attempts to gameify their personal fitness.

Estimates on the size of this market vary considerably. Nike claims to have sold nearly 20 million Fuel Bands since early 2012, but data on their competitors is limited. What is clear is that investors consider this technology to be a potentially sizeable market. Jawbone and FitBit have collectively raised over $400 million in funding since 2009.

What’s my prediction? I have used Fuel Band (look in the archives for my review) and am currently using Up. They are interesting devices and the latter is actually a pretty neat piece of technology. The trouble is that they are caught in a middle ground of functionality.

For the average person they overserve need, which is to be active enough to stay healthy. People often want to perceive that they are healthy and have good intentions (which is why so many people have gym memberships that they barely use); however they don’t need the sophisticated analysis that goes into the application ecosystem and  likely lose interest fast, particularly since the bracelet is a little inconvenient to wear – like a rather ugly, if slim, second watch.

For the avid fitness freak, whether they started off as one or were converted by the band, the devices underserve. Because they are attached to the wrist, they are rather inaccurate in judging movement. Vigorous typing causes them to record steps being taken, for example. So someone doing proper training and wanting to use technology to enhance the experience is liable to invest in something more serious – a Garmin Forerunner, for example.

In either case, personal monitors are likely to follow a rapid lifecycle that begins with excitement and advocacy at purchase and rapidly leads to the back of a chest of drawers or eBay. Around 500 monitors are on the UK site at the moment.

That won’t stop sales. I expect that Christmas will be good to the category as, like DAB radios, they are expensive enough to show you care, unusual enough to be relatively sure the recipient won’t have one and cheap enough for you not to be too bothered when they don’t want it. Perfect.

I am very bullish on the long term potential for the quantified self and personal measurement in general, I just think that until the sensors are totally unobtrusive and the ecosystem offers benefits beyond narcissism, it will remain very niche.

Won’t stop me wearing my ‘Up’, but that’s just me and my geek chic :).

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