I’m entering 2015 needing more from my wearables. Yes, I can track steps, sleep, calories, and heart rate. But I’m still drowning in meaningless data and wondering how much value my devices really bring me.
Consider Jawbone Up 24 — one of my preferred devices — it tracks steps, sleep, and if you’re diligent enough (I am not), the food you eat. All of these functions essentially tell you what you’re doing, but they don’t tell you how or why to make adjustments. For instance, the companion app doesn’t suggest how to get a better night’s sleep, nor does the environment automatically adjust to help you recuperate from a workout.
In 2015, wearable devices will need to improve on this limited cataloging ability and actually show us how we can improve our lives in a meaningful way. They need to provide data that is contextual, actionable, and precise so that we can alter our behavior for the best.
Contextual data would give you information that’s useful at a specific time of day. Not only would it help you sift through data noise more quickly, but it would also give you a better understanding of yourself over time.
Having access to a lot of data isn’t necessarily helpful if that data is presented in the wrong context. Take sleep trackers, for example. To get the most from sleep data, we need to get that information at times where we can make adjustments throughout the day and closer to bedtime. And we need some other data sources from our environment to help validate why and how we are getting a good or bad night’s sleep.
For example, imagine having a thermostat linked to a wearable device to note temperature changes in the room while we sleep. This data in addition to our sleep pattern monitor would help us quantitatively understand how temperature affects a good night’s sleep.
As our devices become more personal and linkable, the data we get will become more cohesive. If a device can contextualize the information, it can better understand how to improve on our surroundings and take the appropriate action. Eventually a mobile phone or wearable will be able to understand how to adjust an environment to our liking because of the contextual clues.
Contextual data is not effective without the next piece of the puzzle, which is actionable data. Instead of seeing how many hours we slept and how much we tossed and turned, actionable data software could tell us what to do to make our sleep better. Advances in actionable data software would see adjustments in real time. For example, it could monitor the thermostat and adjust it as our sleep patterns change and the night progresses.
An early example of actionable data is Jawbone’s partnership with Big Ass Fans to create an experience where room fans can increase or decrease speed based on the temperature and humidity in your room.
In 2015, consumers will demand more collaborations like this, where technologies connect current siloed experiences and add true value and convenience to life. Companies will have to respond to consumer expectations or risk being left behind.
Whistle is a dog activity tracker that collects data to help vets better understand the activity level of dogs. The results can help pet owners, by recommending actions to improve pet health. Software like HealthKit gives developers the ability to create similar experiences — delivering data to our doctors who in turn can give us actionable recommendations to enhance our quality of life. However, for any of these functions to work precise instrumentation is necessary.
Precision and Accuracy
Wearables still aren’t as accurate as they should be. For many users, step counts vary in mysterious ways and heart rates fluctuate between “do I even have a pulse” and “I just walked three blocks, but it looks like I ran a marathon.” Manufacturers realize the inconsistencies and are working to improve on the existing hardware to increase precision.
Apple claims the upcoming Apple Watch will be able to track heart rate with the fidelity of most devices found in hospitals. Precision like that is vital if companies are to deliver on the promise that wearables will actually make our lives better.
As the connected home industry and the wearables market try to figure out how to integrate into all aspects of our lives, we will see more partnerships and open platforms for developers to enable devices to talk and work together. Laying this groundwork is part of the next age of computing where the context of data is king, and measuring value by the sheer volume of data becomes a thing of the past. While big data isn’t dead, it will take a back seat as companies provide more personalized experiences to their customers.
Elliott Chenger is an Android engineer and mobile developer at Mutual Mobile, an emerging tech agency that builds products for a more connected world.