Wednesday, 14 August 2013

You Are What You Wear

Gadgets And Apps That Help People Track And Tune Their Behaviour Are Projected To Become A US$50-Billion Market

Google Glass (Uriondo / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Back in 2007, two San Francisco tech writers launched a series of conferences about what they called the "quantified self": the use of apps and wearable devices for collecting and sharing data about your behaviour and condition, from REM sleep to the distance you walk in a day.  Now, thanks to improved sensors and batteries and the buzz around gizmos such as Google Glass, "lifelogging" is leapfrogging from a cult to a trend to everyday reality, as our smartphones, clothes and bodies become platforms for countless innovations that track-and augment-every possible aspect of our lives.

"If you want to start a company in quantified self, this is the time to do it," says Oskar Kalmaru, co-founder of Memoto, a Swedish developer of wearable cameras that drew international attention last win-ter when its US$50,000 Kickstarter campaign earned  10 times that amount. The tiny Memoto clips to users' clothes and takes a geotagged photo every 30 seconds, all day. For US$9 a month, users "back up" their memory to Memoto's cloud server so they can recall desired moments by time, place and, eventually, face recognition.
Just last year, IHS Research forecast a wearable-tech market of US$6 billion by 2016; this year, based on anticipation sur-rounding Glass and Apple's smartwatch, Credit Suisse has bumped up that number to a potential US$50 billion. ABI Research predicts that wearable-tech companies could ship 500 million units by 2018.

New products range from the astonish-ing (brainwave-controlled mood music) to the silly (running shoes that shout encour-agement). Smartphone app Moves tracks your cycling, walking and jogging activities; wristbands such as Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up log your vital signs, day and night. Vigilant parents can use the Filip smartwatch and Withings monitor to keep wee ones under constant surveillance.

Manufacturers of all stripes are making their products "smart": tracking sensors now can be found in bike handlebars, socks, backpacks, bandages and-of course-pet acces-sories. One Montreal startup, OMsignal, has teamed up with local clothing designers, tech developers, health-sector entrepreneurs and textile manufacturers to produce a clothing line with body sensors built right into the fabric.

Eric Boyd, co-founder of the Toronto QS meet-up group, sees the quantified-self movement going fully mainstream. "Fitbit has already sold around three million units," he points out. "That's enormous -that's not niche anymore." Boyd's own company, Sensebridge, illustrates the limitless uses for wearables and add-ons: its North Paw anklet features a built-in compass that gives hikers a "superhuman ability to navigate their surroundings" by subtly vibrating northward.

Boyd, who frequently tests beta technologies, sees a hole in the market for devices that offer the user real-time advice such as a heart rate-triggered stress alarm that lets a runner know when to take a rest. "Almost all the quantified-self devices are passive collectors of data," he says. "That strikes me as a big loss."

Chris Silva, a mobile-tech analyst for California-based Altimeter Group, agrees there is lots of opportunity for fitness products that make sense of collected data, but recommends complementing existing hardware-as Runkeeper does for Fitbit. "Unless you're a player already, like Fitbit or Nike, you're going to face a pretty high barrier to entry," he says. Silva also advises that entrepreneurs look beyond the consumer: "Where we'll make money on things like Glass is in industrial applications, such as routing pick-and-pack in a warehouse, or as a means to watch blood pressure as you are operating."

That's exactly the future envisioned by Dr. Leslie Saxon, head of the Center for Body Computing at the University of Southern California. She says the long-term winners will be products that provide precise health data that doctors can export to charts and spreadsheets. Saxon believes the market is still waiting for sensors good enough to enable everyone to "function in their zone" by providing clear, long-term analytics that help them refine their behaviour and improve diet, sleep, fitness, blood-sugar maintenance, stress management or mental focus. "It's more about the experience than any widget," she says. "What makes it stay with a person is how it tells them a story about themselves."

Author: Melissa Edwards

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