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Alex Le is the co-founder and vice president of product of Heyday, an automatic journaling app.
Take a quick survey of the wearable industry today and the only thing that’s clear is that there is no clear winner.
The marketplace is crowded with sensor-bracelets galore — all with cute names and trendy designs. We’ve got Fitbits and Misfits, Fuelbands and Up bands – and that’s just to name a few. The choices for what to wear are overwhelming and yet the applications of all this sensor technology are frankly underwhelming.
Let’s face it. We’re all wearing glorified pedometers. And we’re really not getting any more “fit” for it.
The data gathered by today’s fitness bands isn’t much more interesting than what we’ve had for decades — pedometers and heart rate monitors have been around and technically “wear-able” since the 80s.
So if not much has changed, what is it going to take for the technology to reach a tipping point? When will our Moms and Dads be talking about and wearing wearables with the same awkward exuberance with which they “Like” our status updates?
It’s all about the story
Sensor technologies are only valuable when the data they gather help us tell a story.
One of the most prolific sensors in consumer technology around us today is the camera. Cameras are the ultimate story-telling sensor, and the rise of photo sharing on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat is a testament to that. A camera is basically a sophisticated light meter, and the data captured — the light in front of the lens — immediately translates into a story that any human being understands.
But what story does a pedometer or a heart meter help us tell? The story of the steps you took today is a far cry from the relative epic conveyed in just a single photograph. And that’s the problem. As far as sensors go, a pedometer is about as interesting as a barometer. While these sensors have been integrated into smartphones for years, they need vision behind them to make them a truly valuable feature.
Above: A mockup of Apple’s Healthbook app, expected in iOS 8.
What we should expect from Apple
One might be tempted to take a hint from the leaked mockups of Healthbook that surfaced recently. Screenshots show tracking that doesn’t go beyond basic “quantified-self” statistics — steps, calories, heart rate and sleep tracking.
Looking at these screens strongly hints that Apple has a wearable in the works. Combine that news with Google’s recent Android Wear initiative being unveiled and it looks all but certain that Apple will be releasing a wrist-based wearable with sensors galore. But I think that there’s more to the story based on Tim Cook’s comments from the D11 conference last year:
“There are lots of gadgets in the space,” he said. “I would say that the ones that are doing more than one thing, there’s nothing great out there that I’ve seen… To convince people they have to wear something, it has to be incredible. If we asked a room of 20-year olds to stand up if they’re wearing a watch, I don’t think anyone would stand up.”
Wearables still have a long way to go, and Apple is certainly paying attention. Apple has historically shown that it doesn’t have to be first to the market to win, and I think it’s happy to take their time in this arena.
When wearables have the capability of doing more than just gathering your fitness “data” and can start to tell a fuller story of your life, you can expect Apple to enter the market. Until then, my bet is that Healthbook has more in common with Passbook than just its looks.
Just like Passbook, Healthbook is probably nothing more than a repository for partner products and services to their send data to. The wearable rumors are probably just a red-herring.
Alex is co-founder of Heyday, the journal that writes itself by capturing your daily activities on your iPhone. Before that, he co-founded gaming company Serious Business which was acquired by Zynga. He then became one of the creators of Cityville and upon leaving Zynga in 2012.
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