The Song Remains the Same

My interest was piqued recently in the so-called Fitness Wearables. The idea of learning more about my vital parameters is very appealing. How well do I really sleep? How far do I actually walk in a day and a myriad other questions can now be answered simply by wearing a lightweight wristband that wirelessly connects via my smartphone to the cloud. This not only appeals to the geek in me but also offers the potential to provide real data that can drive the maintenance or even improve what is good in my daily routine. Future versions of the quantified self might even provide an early indication of something going wrong (e.g. risk of heart attack or stroke – yikes!).

As I explored what products were available I was amazed to discover the range of options offered. Topline companies such as Nike with their Fuelband to startups such as Fitbit with the Flex and Force and Jawbone with UP and UP24 products. But what really stopped me in my tracks was when I went to my local big box electronic store and saw a large rack labeled Fitness Wearables. The display housed the current generation of top brands as well as a plethora of previous generation (i.e. 6 -12 month old) versions which were mostly pebble sized devices designed to slip into your pocket or be worn on your belt. And a slew of much cheaper often less functional devices from semi-anonymous Asian suppliers.

At this moment I had a stark sense of déjà vu. Yes, I had heard this song before!…slightly different words but without doubt the same song. My mind flew back to the early millennial years when seemingly overnight we were flooded with every kind of MP3 device imaginable. Offering a staggering 128 kB (I’m not joking) of memory and up, these wonders could hold 20 then 100 then 500 songs and had batteries that could – well might – last several hours or even a whole day. Products from companies that we have never heard of flooded the shelves of electronic retailers. Endless products differentiated by only the most tiny of features. A true explosion of the species.

And then came the iPod. With one product announcement Apple shook the market to its foundation. Apple famously married the MP3 (well M4a – but that’s another blog post) player to iTunes – and in the space of a few years totally disrupted the entire music industry. [It is also interesting to note that it is easy to draw a direct lineal connection from iPod and iTunes to iPhone and the App Store which went on to completely disrupt the mobile phone carrier and application software industries].

This raises a number of fascinating questions: Which company or set of companies is today poised to launch a revolutionary variant of the wearable health sensor? Will instantaneous personal health data be linked to an open (but secure) cloud based platform? Will third party developers introduce apps (a thousand apps, a million apps) leveraging this data to improve our lives?

We really are moving into a whole new world of personal healthcare monitoring and maintenance driven by the integration of sensor and M2M technology.

No doubt enormous opportunities will emerge. Fortunes will be made (and some will be lost!) by the companies that deliver these revolutionary solutions and successfully deal with the inherent security and privacy issues.

My point is that we are at a similar stage today in the wearable health market that we were in the pre-Apple iPod MP3 player market. Stay tuned – it will be exciting!

With deference and thanks to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page I truly believe “The Song Remains the Same”.

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