The Explosion of the Wearable Market: What It Means For You, Your Body, and the Genius’ Behind the Screens
“Companies that can artfully marry technology innovation with customer intimacy and credibility will be the true long-term winners” (Pitstick, 2014).
The Growth of the Wearable Market
Wearable technology is nothing new. Big name brands like Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin have been making fitness devices for years. Garmin released their first watch in the Forerunner line back in 2003, with the capability to track distance and pace via GPS. Apple stepped on the scene many years later when they released their Apple Watch back in 2015.
While these devices have been available for many years, the technology and the diversity of data that they provide is increasing rapidly. New companies who are hoping to get into the market know that in order to keep up with the big guns, they need to offer something different. For many companies, this means narrowing their focus either to a specific part of the body, or to a single physiological factor like water content. Leaders of these companies have found that the biggest need they need to address is actionable data in real time (without the assistance of athletic coaches or trainers). So who are these new guys? Let’s take a look.
With world-class advisors from NYU’s Langone Medical and Sports Performance Center to four time Olympic medal winners, MIT based company Humon is committed to getting you the data you need in real-time. (Kurtaran, 2017) Their product is the Humon Hex, a biosensor that measures how much oxygen is being used by your muscles. Unlike most wearable devices currently on the market, which are typically worn on the wrist, Humon’s sensor is attached to the leg by way of an expandable strap. This shift has proven to be advantageous for Humon, as it has been scientifically shown that the wrist does not in fact provide the most accurate data. In an interview, Humon Co-Founder Alessandro Babini shares, “Most wearables that are going to survive are going to be the ones from companies where wearables won’t be worn around the wrist. There’s really nothing that can be reliably measured from the wrist. There’s no wrist based heart rate monitor that is accurate, they are all inaccurate. Wearables will be placed on the part of the bodies that matter” (Sawh, 2017a).
Past methods for measuring oxygen have required highly invasive and expensive blood tests, with long turn around time for accessing data. Humon’s technology has the capability to measure oxygen content, specifically hemoglobin saturation, by emitting light into the muscles and detecting the intensity of light that propagates through the muscle. The beauty of this device is that the data is delivered in real time, by way of an AI-powered coach. “We can tell you in real time about how you are warming up, how far you are from your limit, how you are recovering and when or not you should keep pushing yourself,” says Babini (Sawh, 2017a). Note that not only is data being taken and interpreted in real time, but there is actionable feedback being relayed to the athlete. Those of you who are accustomed to working out for 2–3+ hours at a time, know that keeping motivation becomes tough as the minutes progress. Having this in-ear coach to remind you that you still have more to give can be the difference between a good training day and a great one. According to inside sources, the Hex is set to be released in Q4 of 2017 for $300.
The next product spotlight is Lumo Run, from the California based company, Lumo Bodytech. This smart tracker analyzes running form and gives personalized feedback on the go through your headphones. While running, the device will measure five components of your stride including: cadence, braking, bounce, pelvic rotation, and pelvic drop. And the process is easy! Simply clip the device onto the back of your running shorts and go for a run. Weighing in at only 25g (nearly half the weight of a Garmin 935) and measuring the size of your thumb, you’ll barely even know it’s there (Sawh, 2017b). However, tapping into the real-time feedback component requires that you do bring your phone on a run with you. While some athletes may not be excited about the idea of having to carry around yet another piece of technology, the benefits of real-time feedback are truly worth it.
When it comes to programming the device, experts at Lumo understand that running form is very particular to each individual, and therefore, adjustments to a runner’s form must be made in small increments. The coaching method at Lumo follows a safe 5% model for gradual improvements to be made. As you build up a history with the device, it will begin to provide users with relevant warm-up and cool down suggestions, a feature rarely seen on similar devices (Sawh, 2017b). If you’re looking for a product that’s a little bit more affordable, the Lumo Run might be a good fit for you, at a reasonable price of $99 (“Introducing Lumo Run,” n.d.). A faster, more efficient you is just a few strides away.
The third and final new wearable technology is brought to you by two medical students from the University of Texas Austin. The company officially started back in the spring of 2012, and is now coming out with their second product, a hydration monitor called the LVL. Unlike Lumo and Humon who both have a very specific and narrowed target consumer, BSX welcomes a more varied audience. “Hydration matters for anyone that sweats and that’s everybody,” said Justin Freckleton, co-founder of BSX ((Sawh, 2016). While the main objective of the product is to measure hydration, the LVL will also track fitness, sleep, and heart rate. Combining all of this data into one product makes the LVL a very appealing product for a wide range of customers. Based on the sensor’s feedback, the product will make recommendations every hour in order to sustain effort throughout your workout.
The real novelty of this product, however, is seen in the type of optical light that is used to acquire data. The LVL technology is unique because it utilizes red light as opposed to green light to measure the amount of water at various depths within the body. The human body has proven to be a poor absorber of red light, which enables the light signal to pass far deeper into the body, by a factor of 10. This level of penetration allows the light to get down to the tissue levels in the body where there are larger tissue beds of interest. The traditional use of green light has been used by the majority of wearable products because of the wealth of knowledge and products that have used it previously. Using red light technology follows a riskier but potentially more beneficial path, and only time will tell (“Red Light versus Green Light — bsxtechnologies — Medium,” 2016). To bring this product to market, BSX has partnered with design consulting firm Frog Designs. According to David Carr, an employee at Frog, “The red light technology enables optical sensing, particularly for heart rate that’s vastly more accurate than anything else on the market today. You look at most wearables, they are plus or minus 14–20 bpm of what an EKG gold standard can show. We’ve been able to demonstrate with a full range of activities from low to high intensity an accuracy of 2.7 bpm” (Sawh, 2016). This newer science for extracting data is proving to truly set this product apart from others on the market, and is certainly one worth checking out.
What will success look and feel like for these companies?
The companies highlighted above are just a few examples of what’s on the market, but are by no means the end of it. In a highly competitive and growing industry, the success of a company is going to be highly reliant on how well a company can target a specific user group. Doing so effectively requires that plenty of research be done on the core goals and needs of their desired users. Companies that failed in the past failed because they lost the connection between the data and their user. The science and the numbers were there, but there was no actionable data that the consumer could use to make improvements. In order for a company to come onto the market and last, they need to make sure that their data is accessible, and that this information is filling a void in their users life. If a company can’t hit those targets, another company could easily swoop right in.
The concept of wearable technology is nothing new, and consumers know that. With a wealth of products to choose from, consumers now have the ability to be particular about what kind of data they’re looking for. For some users this may mean purchasing a product that does one thing really well, while other users may be hoping to gain a wide range of knowledge. According to IDTechEx, wearables shipped in 2019 will have 4.1 different sensors, jumping up from an average of 1.4 sensors back in 2013 (“Red Light versus Green Light — bsxtechnologies — Medium,” 2016). It’s no longer just about the technology, but the way in which the technology can merge into the everyday lives of its users.
Introducing Lumo Run. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2017, from http://www.lumobodytech.com/lumo-run/
Kurtaran, D. (2017). The Future Of Wearable Tech for Sports: Interviewing Dan Wiese, Co-Founder Of Humon | SnapMunk. Retrieved August 9, 2017, from https://www.snapmunk.com/interview-dan-wiese-humon-wearable-tech/
Pitstick, B. (2014). CES 2014 Wearable & Fitness Tech Trends: Going Mainstream. Moor Insights & Strategy. Retrieved from http://www.moorinsightsstrategy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/CES-2014-Wearable-Sports-Fitness-Tech-Trends-FINAL.pdf
Red Light versus Green Light — bsxtechnologies — Medium. (2016). Retrieved August 9, 2017, from https://medium.com/bsxtechnologies/red-light-versus-green-light-74fdd5fe7027
Sawh, M. (2016). LVL: Why hydration monitoring is about so much more than fitness. Retrieved August 9, 2017, from https://www.wareable.com/wearable-tech/lvl-hydration-monitor-ceo-interview
Sawh, M. (2017a). Humon: Measuring oxygen levels is the fitness metric everyone is going to want. Retrieved August 9, 2017, from https://www.wareable.com/wearable-tech/humon-wearable-elite-athletes-interview-204
Sawh, M. (2017b). Lumo Run review. Retrieved August 9, 2017, from https://www.wareable.com/running/lumo-run-review