Thursday, 26 June 2014

Android Wear is GO

On the back of the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, the first Android Wear watches have been released.

LG's G Watch ($229/£159) and Samsung's Gear Live ($199/£169 - more expensive in the UK for some reason) can now be pre-ordered for early July delivery.

Motorola's much anticipated 360 (around $250) is expected sometime during the summer.

On the wrist

Of course, the point of this first generation of smartphones is - like the Pebble - to link to your phone and act as a notification point for messaging and Google Now, as well as providing the opportunity for voice search.

They will also sync with peripherals such as heart rate monitors, although it's not clear that these devices will attract the  fitness crowd per se. Design-wise, they're just a bit professional.

Next up, let's see if Apple can fulfil its "50 million sales" expectations...

Monday, 23 June 2014

Fitness monitors are coming in your ears

Just when you think the wearables market can't get any more weird, along comes something weirder.

To be fair to FreeWavz and its smart earphones, it's not the first attempt to provide an ear-mounted health tracker. LG has announced something similar with its Lifeband Touch Activity Tracker.

And in some ways, the ears aren't a terrible place to measure blood flow, although I'd like to see a side-by-side measure of heart rate accuracy compared to a chest strap.

Yet despite mention of its "medical grade pulse oximeter", the FreeWavz ability to measure O2 saturation seems very odd.

More generally, it seems like FreeWavz might be decent - if expensive - sports headphones with some random health monitoring features thrown into the mix, because that sort of thing sells a Kickstarter campaign.

So, no. I won't be contributing to the $300,000 goal.

If you do, FreeWavz can be currently backed for $179, compared to SRP of $299. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

How Google expects Android Wear to make you more present in the real world

"More present in the real world, yet more connected to the virtual world."

That's what Google's Timothy Jordan reckons is the guiding principle behind Android Wear.

"It's a fundamentally different mobile device," he says of the watch compared to a phone, asking developers to think about the wrist and the micro-interactions that best fit with the form factor.

Of course, voice interaction is probably the most important change, at least in terms of UX.

The diagram below shows how Google thinks Android Wear will improve the speed of getting information.

Check out the full video below.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Why wearables will optimise insurance-based health systems but challenge publicly-funded ones

There was an interesting guest column recently on VentureBeat about the impact of wearables in the US health market.

Now I've always thought that wearables are more likely to be big business in China because it has a very fast growing obesity problem and a very immature health service. That's a good situation for innovation.

However, the US - with its mature obesity problem, mature but broken insurance-based health service and individualistic approach to life - is perhaps an even better environment for the widespread adoption of wearables for personal health.

Making it cheaper with proof

In its simplest form, this could see health insurance companies reducing premiums for people who wear health sensors because - in terms of known data - the personal insurance-based health market has previously always been loaded in favour of the individual.

That's why insurers play by the small print and the attempt to get full disclosure. It's the only weapon they have.

But wearable sensors disrupt this information imbalance. Instead of us telling the insurers how much we don't drink or how much we do run, we'll now have to prove it.

Breaking down the average

For some people, this is bad news, of course. But for generally honest and fit people, it should see a lowering of health costs, and hence will encourage more people to be healthy and fit and prove that they are healthy and fit.

Surely that's one outcome we can all agree is positive.

Of course, this does create a problem for those who aren't or can't prove they are healthy as they will have to bear more of the costs of their healthcare.

No doubt that will be another big political issue, but that's something that's happening through all insurance-based services as better data breaks down what were once dumb averages into well defined risk segments i.e. pensions, flooding, car cover etc.

Hands off our NHS, Fitbit

The sad news, however, is for those countries - like the UK - which don't have insurance-based health services, but instead have publicly-funded systems, paid through general taxation.

The NHS - free at the point of delivery etc etc - has no easy way to build such incentives (at least financial incentives) to encourage people to be more healthy and prove it with wearable sensors.

And let's get this straight. We're not talking about people running marathons here. A recent study suggested that 73 percent of people who used their mobiles to track basic fitness believed they become healthier.

Indeed, giving people more information about their health, generally allows them to change their behaviour for the better - that's even the case when we talk about crude anchoring advice such as 5 fruit and vegetables a day, 10,000 steps a day, or not drinking more than 21 units of alcohol a week.

The question is not whether people fulfil these goals, but it's that they do better than if they have no advice at all.

Instead, the big challenge for services like the NHS is that it will be extremely difficult to use wearable devices to directly incentivise individuals to get fitter and stay fitter for longer in the way insurance-based services will be able to do.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Two problems with the Quantifiable Self - quantification and self

Anyone who works with data knows what a messy situation it always is. All data - at least all useful data - has issues, ranging from how it’s recorded to how it should be processed. This is particularly the case with systems that rely on some human input. Self-reporting is notoriously hopeless, with research suggesting, for example, that the self reporting of ‘calories eaten’ is under reported by around 30 percent. Even using a device like my Fitbit Flex, you have to remember to switch it into sleep mode for it to automatically measure sleep (yes, I know you can manually add it later, but who does?). Similarly my Nike+ GPS watch can take anything up to a minute to lock onto the satellites it requires. Not to mention, randomly resetting itself to 2010 if it runs out of power, and the five or so times it never got a satellite signal during a 30 minute run. Margin of error These are slight errors of self and quantification, of course. More worrying - given we appear to be ready to hand over aspect of personal medicine to such devices (c.f. Apple’s HealthKit) - is the basic accuracy of the devices we’re using. A recent example. I went for a run using a Beurer fitness watch with heart monitor, and my Nike+ GPS watch. Both were started at the same time, but at the end of the run, the Nike+ watch listed 403 calories burnt, while the Beurer said 320. Assuming the Beurer+heart rate monitor is the more accurate of the two, that’s a 26 percent difference. Combining my two examples then, I could be over-exaggerating my calories burnt by 26 percent and under-exaggerating my calories in by 30 percent. That’s massive inaccuracy. Life and death? Yet, again, it could be said this is a trivial case. Where it does get concerning is when devices say they can accurately measure proper medical metrics such as cholesterol or blood sugar, or for some people even heart rate and calories (in and out). Not to mention when doctors are relying on people using the devices properly,: and that could be whether legitimate or illegitimate misuse c.f. the statistics about how many people complete their set treatment of antibiotics (22 percent of 16-24 year olds) But maybe I’m being too pessimistic. The Quantified Self can clearly produce great results, even with the current generation of devices. In most of these cases, though, it works because the motivation behind the Quantified Self is the self. Initial self awareness and self motivation enables quantification to positively feedback into a better self. Where we need to be concerned is in the cases of those where we expect quantification alone to drive self and change behaviour. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

What if not even an Apple wearable can shrink its lardy-assed fanboys?

So the Apple iWatch hype starts its rolling boil this week.

Rumours throughout the tech and business press are suggesting an October release of a device that will act as the hardware pivot for the announced HealthKit and Health app in iOS 8.

Perhaps more interesting are those people who are quoting a 3-4 million production run on the hardware; impressive if true given Pebble’s oft-quoted 400,000 install base.

Of course, what’s actually important is whether those likely millions of buyers actually use the device in anything like a proper manner.

For, while there is a percent of tech geeks who are also into health (hence platforms like Nike+ etc), the vast majority of Apple fanboys are pasty, lard arses.

So while they will be buying a large strap version of the iWatch, for how long will they be wearing - or more importantly - interacting with it when it starts telling them to stop eating cake and go for a run?

And that’s going to be the biggest challenge, especially for a likely highly fashionable Apple device, that will attract an audience that has no real interest in health, only in being seen with the latest Apple hardware.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Apple, HealthKit and the Walled Garden

Somewhere between a bang and a whimper, Apple announced its HealthKit platform.

This being revealed at the company's developer conference, Apple didn't talk about any consumer hardware. Instead its focus was to talk briefly about how the platform unifies multiple health metrics.

Combined with Apple's linked and overarching Health app, it looks like the baseline configuration won't offer anything different that the current generation of health trackers - tracking calories, sleep, heart rate etc - plus what looks like more comprehensive medical metrics, listed as ominously as Diagnostics. Lab Results and Medical ID.

Apple has said that HealthKit will be open to thirdparties, mentioning for example the Nike+ fitness platform. But the point of the platform is that within iOS, you'll be able to share whatever data you're monitoring with integrated apps, including links to professional healthcare providers.

US regional provider Mayo Clinic has been particularly keen to praise the move.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question, however, is how open the data is, particularly in the longterm?

Obviously there's a privacy issue involved in terms of how medical data is shared and made available in the short-term, but equally, given Apple's proprietary nature (aka The Walled Garden), it seems unlikely it's adopting open industry standards, which as I've argued is a main longterm concern with this sort of fitness and health data.

And maybe, as important, it's not clear how Apple's iOS 8-centric approach will en/discourage the wider health and fitness app industry, which is something that will require support for Android and the web.

After all, we're not going to be using Apple hardware for the rest of our lives.