Trade Resources Policy & Opinion Wearables Poised to Make Good on Their Promise to Have Substantial Influence on Society

Wearables Poised to Make Good on Their Promise to Have Substantial Influence on Society

Despite the hype, wearables are poised to make good on their promise to have substantial influence on society and business, according to a new report from PwC. Consumers seem to be excited by the potential of wearables, regardless of the fact that just only one in five people in the United States owns a wearable, and only one in ten uses the technology daily, according to a PwC survey of 1000 consumers carried out in summer of 2014.

Still, 56% of those polled thought that wearable technology would add ten years to the human lifespan by improving vital signs monitoring. 46% thought the technology could make a dent in the obesity epidemic by improving monitoring of nutrition and activity levels. Nearly as many, 42%, thought the technology would improve athletes’ ability to perform.

Wearables could be a big deal for life science companies, too. Not only is the wearable sector attracting significant investment cash—more than $200 million in the first half of 2014, wearables could be used by life science companies to improve patient monitoring. Life science firms could use the technology to gather data to support clinical trials and to help prove the efficacy of their products.

Wearables also could further blur the lines between traditional medical devices and consumer technology, with medical devices borrowing design queues from the consumer tech sector. We've already seen this trend at work with the t:slim insulin pump from Tandem Diabetes Care (San Diego), which has a design and touchscreen interface inspired by the iPhone.

Wearables could affect society in profound ways, too. More than half of those polled by PwC (52%) thought the technology would make face-to-face interactions even rarer—a trend that has already been kickstarted by the explosion in use in smartphones. 52% also thought that automated facial scanning technology would do with the need to remember people’s names. Nearly two thirds of those polled thought wearables would further blur the distinction between home life and work life, while more than 50% thought the technology would lead to increased telecommuting while reducing the need for support from friends and family.

Perhaps the biggest influence that wearables could have on health is that they could be used for tracking of anonymous health metrics. In PwC’s poll, 70% of consumers said they would agree to share their data under in exchange for a break on their insurance premiums.

Such a scenario remains hypothetical at this point, and the current lineup of wearable trackers remain relatively unimpressive or overly expensive to most and many people are still skittish about sharing health information with others. Only 5% would be willing to shell out $300 for a wearable and 38% would pay $100 for the technology. By contrast, roughly two thirds of those polled would wear a free wearable provided by an employer or insurance company. Millennials are two times as other age groups to a smart watch, smart band, or smart glasses if it is covered by an insurance company.

So what needs to happen for wearables to live up to the hype? If the technology mirrors the adoption rate of tablet computers, its user base could double in two years, from 20% to 40%. For that to happen, the quality of data coming off the devices needs to improve while costs come down. The devices need to do a better job at interpreting health data so that it is actionable for consumers. In addition, PwC concludes that wearable “devices will need to be seamlessly interoperable, more self-sufficient and free from additional steps such as syncing and powering.” It continues: “The software side of wearables will be emphasized as much as the hardware.”

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How Wearables Could Change The Life Sciences and Medtech