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Trends in technology

November 18, 2013

Wearable health. Google Glass. Nike+ FuelBand. The Pebble. Once confined to the realm of sci-fi, wearable technology is not only a reality for today’s consumer, it’s gearing up to be the next gold rush in tech. 

The personal wellness and fitness category has already taken off. Capitalizing on the adage “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” the socially savvy Fitbit One and the insanely elegant Misfit Shine help people create, track, and achieve their activity and weight management goals in ways that were previously the domain of costly personal trainers. 

But fitness and activity trackers only scratch the surface of what’s possible. As social media, apps, and physical devices become ever more connected, a new layer of individual data is being added to people’s lives that didn’t exist even five years ago. This is good news for Fitbit and Nike+ FuelBand wearers striving to lose six pounds or go from couch potato to 5K runner in a month, but it’s spectacular news for the health care industry. The implications for preventive care are enormous, and the field is growing by leaps and bounds. At the 2012 Consumer and Electronics Show, 24 booths showcased wearable health devices. By 2013, that number had more than tripled.

As the cost of data-measuring sensors falls and electronic components shrink, new doors open for form, function, and application of wearable tech. A circuit “tattoo” that delivers real-time data to physicians? T-shirts that measure body temperature and vital signs? Smart bandages that send electric currents to chronic pain spots? All these and more are becoming realities—and profitable ones at that. The market for wearable and mobile health-device technology was worth $2 billion in 2011 and is projected to reach $6 billion by 2016. Brands to watch right now are Avery Dennison (Metria Wearable Sensor), AiQ Clothing (smart textiles), Thimble Bioelectronics (smart bandages), and Zephyr Technology (BioHarness).

And while the future certainly looks bright, it’s important to remember that wearable devices are, by nature, connected to the cloud—which creates privacy issues that become particularly tricky in conjunction with health data. But for now, there’s still more excitement than trepidation around today’s “softwear.” The burgeoning area of digital health means countless marketing and partnership opportunities for both established brands and smaller disruptors—and that could mean a healthier future for all of us. Or a fully functioning Batsuit. I’ll take either.




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