In recent years, there has been a lot of buzz around ‘wearables’ – smart devices, such as smartwatches, fitness and activity trackers, that you wear on your body instead of carrying around like a phone or tablet. Despite the hype and initial popularity of these devices with consumers, this category has been slow to really catch on. Let’s look at why.

Until now, there have been two main categories of wearable device, smartwatches and fitness trackers:

Touchscreen watches are limited in their usefulness.

SMARTWATCH

Smartwatches tell the time, of course, but they also do a whole lot more. They offer a variety of apps and allow you to keep track of your phone notifications, check emails and make payments without digging out your phone. If we’re being honest, not everyone is completely sure of what smartwatches are really for. But although sales of the Apple Watch, for example, are reported to be on the rise, the jury is still out on whether this technology will become a world-changing device or just another passing trend. Nevertheless, ever since the classic calculator watches of the 1980s, people have been attracted to watches that do a little bit more than just tell the time.

Consumers have lost interest in fitness trackers.

Consumers have lost interest in fitness trackers.

FITNESS TRACKER

Some fitness trackers tell the time and most smartwatches give you information about your fitness. The real difference is the main focus of the technology. While the main point of a smartwatch is to stay connected, fitness trackers are really all about motivating you to take more exercise by collecting data. Loved by sporty types, fitness trackers typically track the number of steps you take, calories you burn and your heart rate. However, after initial strong sales, consumers have lost interest and pioneers in the field like Fitbit are struggling. Partly because these devices fail to provide data that is usable for the medical profession.

Great fun, but so what?

Fitness trackers are cool gadgets and can provide useful information to people who love knowing how far they’ve run or walked. Meanwhile, smartwatches are useful for busy people who can’t afford to miss important messages just because they’re working out or stuck in a meeting.

The problem is that most people who are paying attention know how much exercise they have taken in a day, so the data from a fitness watch quickly becomes less interesting and therefore less motivating. Before long, the device is gathering dust on the bedside table.

The same applies to a smartwatch. Its small screen is no substitute for the giant screen you have in your pocket all day. Smartwatches simply don’t have a killer feature to make them compelling enough for most people to stick with.

But there is a new category of device that can do much more than both the smartwatch and fitness tracker. Enter the health watch.

So what is a health watch?

While there is plenty of scope for wearables to be useful in areas such as finance and education, the sector with the highest potential for doing something truly special has to be health care. Reliable and timely data is absolutely vital in health care – why do you think we spend half of the time at the doctor’s going for test after test? If wearables could be used to collect vital data and monitor people’s health, how much benefit would that bring to our lives? How many lives could potentially be saved?

This is the basic concept of the health watch: to facilitate collection of vital information about your body of sufficient quality to be shown to a doctor. This in turn will make it possible to spot potential illnesses before they develop and promote a healthier lifestyle.

Giants of the industry jump on board, with varying results

Digital health care is just getting going, but these kinds of devices have already saved lives. A couple of big companies have also dipped their toes into the market, though the results are somewhat disappointing: Philips has released the Philips Health Watch, which claims to help you track and deal with chronic diseases, but is actually little more than a regular fitness tracker. It’s main features are a pedometer and a heart rate monitor, resulting in underwhelming reviews.

Nokia’s range of products (adding up to more than $500 if you buy them all) measures various parameters such as blood pressure and body temperature, before sending them to the Health Mate app (originally developed by a company named Withings, now owned by Nokia). It is a step in the right direction, but once again people have been left frustrated, in this case by the inaccuracy of the data and lack of usability of the app. They also lament the fact that the multinational company has ruined many of the best features of the old Withings app.

What’s missing?

Some people want to run faster and longer. But many others have serious health concerns. The rise of wearable technology provides us with a golden opportunity to do something really special. To save lives.

A real health watch should be something more than a nice-looking gadget to play with. It should be a medical-grade device that provides you and your doctors with high-quality, reliable data, and allows for this data to be used to give you accurate, reliable information about the state of your health. What is more, it should help the medical profession fight some of the deadliest diseases on the planet.

On the software side, it also needs to be able to adapt to each patient, taking into account other factors, such as exercise, stress and medical history to flag up anything unusual. A lot can be done with software, as HeartWatch, an app that uses sensor data from the Apple Watch to “unlock the power of your Apple Watch’s health sensors”.

Time for a real revolution?

The potential is there, but it is not necessarily being realised by current wearable tech companies. The secret will be when someone manages to combine the latest sensor technology with state-of-the-art analytics and artificial intelligence to provide a holistic service.

It’s an ambitious challenge, but one company attempting to do just that is MAP Health Watcher, which is offering a custom-made watch with a service that combines data analytics with the personal touch of qualified professionals.

Medicatus LLC., the company behind the MAP Health Watcher project, was founded by a consortium of investors in 2013 to develop diagnostic technologies based on long-term measurement of patient vital signs.

Let’s take a look at how it works. MAP stands for Measure, Analyze, Predict.

MEASURE: The MAP Health Watch is the first consumer device on the market containing five medical-grade sensors capable of measuring six vital parameters

ANALYZE: The data collected from the MAP Health Watch is analyzed using a powerful set of sophisticated algorithms to detect any potential problems or complications

PREDICT: This data is then regularly reviewed by specialist data analysts with medical experience who can offer medical advice and intervene whenever there is an issue that requires attention

For more on MAP Health Watcher, click here, and visit the MAP Health Watch Indiegogo campaign to purchase the device at a 56% discount.

Millions of Lives at Stake

The Medical Futurist, who has almost 65,000 followers on Facebook, agrees that this could be a “game changer”.

MAP Health Watcher is making a bold promise, but there are millions of lives at stake. Even if technologies like this are able to save a handful of people from sudden death by stroke or heart attack, or to motivate people to improve their lifestyles and thereby live fuller longer lives, it will be a major step forward. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between current technologies and those of the future – they will move beyond being trendy gadgets to become genuine medical devices connected to sophisticated software and services that can have a huge impact on people’s lives.

Here’s to the future!