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Most Wearable Devices Will Fail and the Name of the Category Will Change From Wearables to Sense-ables

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Wearables are anything but sensible, from first hand observation they are somewhat silly, as they are trying to solve a problem that can be solved by a myriad of simpler and more passive mechanism.

If you were at CES, you could not have missed a new category of computing called "wearables." This category of devices can be described as the FitBit gone mad. Wearables currently come in three main categories: health trackers, watches and glasses. In each of these categories some if not all devices are pivoting to solving the world's biggest health problems.

Almost daily, I see a new wearable device launched, and while they all are minimally viable products, they continually get sillier and sillier. We are seeing everything from wearable necklaces (like necklaces were never wearable) earrings, shoes, clothing and many other bodily accruements being outfitted with small computers/biosensors, low voltage needs and high connectivity. Like clockwork, every new device no matter how silly, calls out to the world with press releases, tweets, YouTube videos and multiple pounds of the manufacturing firm's proverbial digital chest reckoning how disruptive some new wearable product is.

My observation is that we have bastardized the word disruption. Most wearables are disturbing mankind under the once well-intended charter of disruption.

While a minority of humans continue to wear these devices past the first few months of purchase, most folks (like myself) stop wearing after the nostalgia has worn off. I gave up my FitBit after about six months, my pebble watch in about six days and my Google GLASS, well I got over that bad boy in about six hours. I got over them the same way I got over my first CASIO watch, which doubled as a calculator in high school; said watch plus calculator was disturbing my life. Disruption does not have to disturb.

Good disruption is change without disturbance.

The hypothesis is simple, wearing something on my body that is not confortable, fashionable and delivering more value than it disturbs me is not a sustainable value proposition. So the big question is what will become of wearables? Clearly the movement of computing to the edge of the network will continue, and the connecting of things/biosensors that are not computers (Internet of Things) will continue. Wearables currently position themselves as trying to solve health's biggest problems.

Well, do I need to wear the solution to health's biggest problems 24/7, or can the solution simply sense me daily/weekly?

The solutions will become sensible, and may be called sense-ables

Just recently, Singularity University wrote on Forbes.com about the "new generation of revolutionary biosensors that contain the power of clinical lab instruments in packages that are light, small, wireless and highly efficient." The Human API calls for "Sensoring" all suggesting it is the sensing and sensors that matter, not where or how they are embedded/worn/adorned.

During a Hacking the Future episode, John Nosta from Forbes.com and I landed on the construct of "implantables" or more eloquently as John coined it "dermals." Implantables and/or dermals will do the complete opposite of what current wearables do, instead of "disrupting/disturbing" they will be dormant, unnoticeable, behind the scenes and sensing passively. Experts will argue that the problem with sense-ables are they do not provide a "stream" of 24/7 health information, instead they will probably provide a single point of time (SPOT) measure of health.

Here are some examples of sense-ables.

  • Cars -- the steering wheels, the seats.
  • Bathrooms -- mirrors, toilets, toothbrushes, shower drains (for heavens sake we have scales in there already).
  • Bedrooms -- pillows, mattresses, sheets.
  • Offices -- chairs, pens.
  • Pharmacies -- think about a "sensing room" where you go in and submit your data in 2-5 minutes.

So what about "streaming health" thought?

More and more we incorrectly call out for a "stream" of health information. I am guilty of this as well, here is an outdate version of my thinking around "streams" of health information. But do we need health data to "stream" to solve health's biggest problems? Are we over-solving? Over-engineering?

We are getting the data part of heath completely wrong.

  1. For most, a stream of personal health information from a clinical perspective is only marginally more valuable than a SPOT read of your vitals daily, or weekly (unless you need ICU type monitoring). This means embedded sensors that can sense me daily or weekly are enough to improve health exponentially without me having to "wear" a lab on me designed to stream my health.
  2. More data does not automatically mean more likely personalized medicine. Yes, we are seeing the call for me-dicine, but outside of some therapeutic classes such as oncology and a handful of others, we may never get to personalized medicine; we may never need to. We may get to personalized medicine for groups, demographics, genders, age and body types, but the commercial investment to make a pain killer designed with my "health fingerprint" in mind is just silly.
  3. The data from the human body is imperfect, and we need to focus on developing cognitive computing that "heals" the health data from human bodies before we can use it to make clinical conclusions. Otherwise, we will have false diagnosis driving global hypochondria. Until then, where the power of data from the sick can be beneficial, is where we can study health data from crowds (or in crowds) and use analytics to extrapolate from crowds (or of crowds). We will only benefit from an "index of health data" from a crowd over a stream from a person until we develop cognitive computing to heal imperfect health information sourced from imperfect human bodies.
  4. Innovations that see massive adoption eventually driving revolutions are those that help the lion's share of society. The mobile phone drove a revolution of hyper-adoption because it is difficult to debate that it does not improve every human life it touches. My CASIO watch plus calculator from high school never drove a revolution because its adoption was ring-fenced to a small population. Most human beings will live exactly the same lives we live today, even if they wore a hundred wearable devices daily, the value of wearing a lab on the body to stream health information for exponential health value is ring-fenced to a small (but albeit unfortunately unhealthy or sick) population of society. Most of us only need SPOT measures of our health to improve our health outcomes exponentially.

There are simply too many simpler ways to solve the problem wearables are all trying to solve -- which is capturing a stream of imperfect health information and hoping for personalized medicine as a result for every human, and too many holes in the argument that they will drive a revolution. Fad for sure.

Be sensible -- build a sense-able, not a wearable.

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