Happy New Year! Last year was a big year for wearable Health Tech and related digital health products and services, and I expect that the pace of growth will be even faster in 2017. The entire wearable industry is the product of the synergy created by the development of a host of other markets: smartphones, wireless communications, sensors, the Cloud, and Big Data analytics, to name a few. Here’s what I expect to emerge from this technology soup in the coming year.
The Big Bang Continues: It may seem that the industry is finally beginning to collapse in on itself. We’ve seen many big-name acquisitions and closures in the past year. Some companies are growing by acquiring competitors, and others are gathering smaller companies in an effort to rapidly grow their technology base and/or employee rolls. And certainly many small outfits have quietly missed shipment targets, burned through their startup capital, and turned off the lights. But I believe that the expansion phase is not over yet. I expect to see many new companies coming out with truly innovative solutions to real problems. Some will end up being acquisition targets themselves, but others will survive as independent successes. I also expect to see a continued flood of companies with “me, too” solutions that address problems that have already been solved or already have plenty of competition. (How many smart blood pressure cuffs does the market really need, or smart shoe insoles?) These companies will continue to provide some “froth” to the investment scene, and most will not survive. All the same, I expect more companies to appear than disappear in 2017.
Accuracy Counts: The success of the wearable Health Tech market depends on return on investment. Unless companies can prove that their products and services save more money — such as in healthcare expenses — than they cost, they will have a difficult time selling the large stake-holder organizations that will form the main revenue source. Consumers apparently don’t care too much if their fitness band is only 20% accurate; a healthcare system monitoring patients to prevent hospital readmissions is going to care deeply about the accuracy of the data that they receive. As a result, expect to see manufacturers focus even more on their ability to deliver data that is both accurate and meaningful. “Clinical quality” is a term you’re going to hear a lot in 2017, and we’re also likely to see more companies opt to pursue FDA clearance for their products.
More Power: One of my recurring themes is that wearables must “disappear” into our daily lives in order to be successful. If you have to remember to recharge your device every night (or even every week), that’s more of nuisance than many people will accept. As a result, expect to see pressure from product designers for improvements on all fronts. Battery technology needs to be thinner, more flexible, and lighter yet hold the same amount of power as existing options. And batteries need to charge faster and be safer in the bargain. Supercaps continue to be a promising alternative to traditional batteries, if we can get them out of the lab and into products. There’s pent-up demand for energy harvesting solutions as well, generating power from available heat, light, motion, and radio frequency emissions. The other side of the equation is consumption, so you can expect to see an emphasis on components that draw less power, from sensor to controllers to wireless transceivers.
Graying Solutions: The U.S. population is getting older, as people live longer and healthier lives. A considerable portion of the wearables and digital health market will focus on specific solutions to help seniors with age-in-place products and services that help them live independently and safely in their own homes. Just changing the label on a product is not sufficient; there are important user interface, communications, and privacy concerns that are special to this segment. Companies will get more involved in addressing the needs of elderly users in 2017.
What else will happen in 2017 in the wearable Health Tech market? I can guarantee you that there will be some surprises that many of us have not foreseen. That’s part of what makes this market so much fun to track. And I hope that you’ll join us here at Health Tech Insider to follow the new developments as they happen in the coming year.