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Death of wearables? Or tipping point in digital health?

By Jeff Arnold, CEO and Chairman

The mHealth space has been buzzing over the last many days since news leaked that Nike laid off a sizable chunk of its FuelBand engineering team. Immediately, the debate about the impending “death of wearables” became headlines in every news outlet that reports even remotely about technology.

Rather than this news being a signal of the death of wearable fitness trackers, I consider it to be a positive indicator that the digital health industry finally is evolving at a pace to which other sectors of successful consumer technology are accustomed. It’s a sign of progress.

Consider early hardware like MP3 players and PalmPilots (heck, even the Walkman or “carphones” that preceded them) – sure, they were cool in concept at the time but in many cases were prohibitively expensive, weren’t built well or offered a subpar user experience. It took many years – and many versions – before these devices evolved into relevance, and unified to become what we know today as simply a smartphone. And it wasn’t the hardware alone that took it there; it was the flexibility to iterate on software and simplicity of an ecosystem that helped drive sustainable cycles of innovation.

Just a few years ago when the iPad launched, it fought the stigma that it was a superfluous, indulgent piece of hardware that was toted around more as a status symbol than a device of utility. Just months after the launch – once the ecosystem (apps) caught up with the hardware, consumers couldn’t get their hands on iPads quickly enough. Today, tablets aren’t accessories; for many, they are necessities. And with these devices and the robust ecosystems that power them, people have discovered things about themselves they didn’t know – previously undetected talents that otherwise might have remained hidden: artists who didn’t know they could draw; musicians who didn’t know they could play an instrument; explorers without the power of sight; and young conversationalists previously silenced by their Autism.

Technology enabled them to unlock their potential. Their raw human potential.

So the real question is when will the digital health ecosystem yield data and efficiencies that enable us to understand, improve and optimize our health – physical, mental and spiritual – such that it makes us the best version of ourselves? When will digital health enable us to unlock our human potential?

The answer is soon – very soon. I believe strongly that in less than a year, the data and knowledge we’ve activated as an industry will begin to yield engagement and healthy outcomes for mobile consumers – because we will have come together as an industry to build a real ecosystem around consumer digital health. And just imagine the possibilities if we can make that ecosystem hardware-agnostic. Maybe wearable fitness trackers will be a part of that, maybe they won’t (for the record, in some form, I think they will) – but what isn’t up for debate is that once we get there, devices like FuelBands, Ups, Fitbits and Shines will have an important place on the timeline of digital health.

Let’s keep moving forward. ¡Viva la evolución!