IFA 2019, in Berline, is the largest Tech Show in Europe and as we speak, it is in its 5th day. And we have seen a plethora of wearable fitness devices trying to hog the limelight of the cross-section of tech and fitness communities as well as the normal consumer. We have witnessed launches of new Wearable fitness devices as well as upgrades in Wearable fitness devices from the likes of Garmin, Withings, Fossil, Asus, etc.
And all of these companies are promising that their technology will make you fitter, healthier, happier and more productive. But it got me thinking, what exactly is the future of these Wearable fitness devices?
Read on to find out more.
The Tech Behind Wearable Fitness Devices:
In order to understand the future of wearable tech, we have to go back to the current standard Wearable fitness devices and it’s availability and the tech they are offering. The most basic Wearable fitness devices like the Mi Fitness Band (and all the other Wearable fitness devices that belong to this Smart Fitness Band category) to the upper echelons which comprises of Fitbit, Garmin, and the top of the hill, the Apple Watch – all of these Wearable fitness devices use some kind of motion sensor be it a gyroscope and accelerometer or a magnetometer or some combination of all three.
Basically what they do is they enable the device to determine the position of the arm of the person (wearing the device) in three-dimensional space and then from there, a series of algorithms will do essentially very good guesswork to determine the rest of the person’s body and what that person is doing. So, if the person’s arm is straightened by his/her side and the person is swaying the arm back and forth then the algorithm will take that motion as walking. So, essentially there’s a lack of refinement in this process as the sensors can’t really differentiate between casual swaying of hand and a gentle stroll in the evening.
The new generation Wearable fitness devices, the likes of the New Garmin Venue or the Mi Band 4, sports a new kind of Wearable fitness device tracker, which is powered by Optical Heart rate Sensor or PPG Sensor, which uses Pulse Oximetry to judge the size of the Red Blood Cells in your blood and from there you can draw a lot of very useful conclusions about your body, for instance, how much O2 you’re intaking, Blood Pressure, heart rate and VO2 Max which is an indicator of your overall fitness.
This device also uses that same technology to measure respiration and what that means is that it can in its new yoga mode, actually determine your breathing and by extension how at peace you are with the world around you.
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The third and newest tech in this Wearable fitness devices segment is ECG or an Electrocardiogram. Both Withings and Asus launched their ECG watches at IFA, 2019 and Apple has already launched their ECG watch with Apple Watch 4. But with medical evaluation and trials are on their way, the Indian Government is yet to approve the use of ECG without any supervision.
So, the availability of ECG on Indian Shores is a problematic situation, although Apple is currently in talks with the Indian Government to make the tech available as soon as possible. Which will open the market for Withings and Asus to bring their Watches to India to give a tough competition to Apple?
Now coming back to the technology, it measures the electrical activity of your heart to check whether you’re suffering from any life-threatening condition. So, if you’re feeling under the weather, you run an ECG from your wrist and coupled with the app, it can tell you a lot of things like whether you’re suffering from something like atrial fibrillation and if you are suffering from it, it’ll tell you to get to the emergency room pronto.
And there are plenty of things that you can do with some or all of these technologies that can be genuinely beneficial. Apple has made a big deal about introducing full detection to the Apple Watch 4. It’s just using the accelerometer and guessing when it thinks you’ve fallen. Comparing to engineering marvel, clever algorithm takes the lead in these watches which are basically the same as exercise detection.
Now, a lot of the gyroscopes and these Wearable fitness devices are smart enough and sensitive enough to tell the difference from when you’re using a rowing machine compared to when you’re running and of course things like habit-forming. The late lamented jawbone really pioneered understanding that if you’re still for too long, then it will give you a buzz. From companies like Fitbit do the exact same thing, you’ve set a time and it will remind you when you’re being too sedentary and that will help you live a slightly more active slightly healthier life.
The Devil Is In The Details :
Here’s the problem, you see these three sensors are going to get more common to the point where they’re in every major Wearable fitness devices and smartwatches on the market in two or three years and there aren’t that many other technologies that we can branch out into to do the next big thing in Wearable fitness devices technology.
There’s something like Galvanic Skin Response which measures the moisture in your skin which is a response to a stimulus. There was a Russian company called Healbe, which claimed that it could determine how many calories you consumed just by measuring Galvanic Skin Response. Credit to them, it actually could tell that you’d eaten but it couldn’t give you the sort of accurate data you’d need to live a healthier life.
Similarly, if you really want to investigate your blood, the next thing might just be breaking the skin that’s going to be an illegal minefield for manufacturers and hard sell consumers. There was one company at CES that promised a watch for diabetics that had micro-needles that would burrow into the skin and do continuous blood-sugar monitoring. There’s no indication though that the technology is and it’s really gonna be a tough tech to sell to anyone who isn’t a diabetic. Imagine, if Apple launched a watch which is going to put loads of needles into your skin.
One possible area where the focus is with mental health and it’s very easy to develop a portable EKG which measures the electrical activity in your brain but it’s going to be hard to put it into a watch it’s beyond imagination people putting their watch in front of their foreheads just to measure the EKG.
And there’s a tension here as well as these Wearable fitness devices become more accurate and more pervasive, the consumers are going to start worrying about the privacy matters because let’s be honest if you don’t trust big tech with pictures of your family members, do you really want them looking after your medical data?
Looking at the way the wind is blowing, it seems fairly obvious that within two or three years a lot of major manufacturers will offer all three of the sensors in every wearable they produce. And that’s great for consumers because it means that everyone will be able to get these sort of Wearable fitness devices at fairly low prices. The commoditization will be great for consumers but it’s going to come at the cost of innovation. Take for instance, Apple, now it’s expected to talk about the new Apple Watch (Series 5?) today (10th September, 2019), and people look to Apple to push the industry on, but even that event may simply be about filling in the gaps in its own hardware (The new Apple Watch may get sleep tracking which was missing in previous watches) that its competitors already have.
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As a consequence, it may be that we’re butting up against the technical limits of what Wearable fitness devices can do.
We shall wait for the future to unfold.
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