Recently, TechRepublic reported on the flood of new devices at CES that can track various biometrics. Of course there were devices to track steps, but there were also devices to track sleep, eating habits, heart rate, temperature, number of workout reps, stress and emotional states and sexual activity. The devices come in the form of bracelets, rings, belts, pendants and clothes. Consumers can buy trackers in rose gold, 18 karat gold and with Swarovski crystals.
But as these devices get more fashionable, can they really help users do more?
In a new report Dan Ledger, who analyzes the wearables industry for Endeavour Partners, made this assessment:
"Today, we are a bit stuck in this world where we are presenting physiological measurements to users without much else. Most devices provide raw data with some broad explanations of what types of things impact this parameter...For example, my Jawbone Up4 will tell me that my heart rate average for the day was 2 beats per minute lower than the day before. But what does that really mean? How can I use this information to make better choices about my health or fitness level?"
Liat Ben-Zur, Senior Vice President of Digital Technology at Philips, has done a lot of thinking about this problem. "It's like, okay great, I see a graph or a chart of how much I've walked and how much I've slept and how my heart rate has been over the last 12 weeks," she said. "Or I'm getting these notifications that tell me when my baby's crying and what temperature the room is and if my baby is sleeping or not sleeping, but so what? Other than looking at data how is that really going to change my life?"
The key to making this stream of data truly useful, she said, is getting tracking devices to work together, to share information and establish patterns and correlations. "Today [devices] don't really share information because they come from different vendors, they all go to their own siloed cloud. Putting that information together and doing interesting analytics and turning it into meaningful programs I think is, at least for me, where IoT needs to go next. And we're not there yet," she said.
See: Under Armour: Big data can make all athletes perform better, and all consumers are athletes now (TechRepublic)
As a step toward that goal, the company announced its new digital platform, HealthSuite, at CES. It's meant to be a secure place where doctors can upload medical records and consumers can upload information from all sorts of tracking devices and all that information can be combined to create insights about that person's health.
Since the platform is new, there's no information about which wearable companies are on board to share data, but apparently there is interest out there. "When I talked about this at CES, after my speech there was a really, really long line of people representing all kinds of companies, startups, hospitals, who were like, 'This is exactly what we need,'" said Ben-Zur.
She acknowledges that building this isn't an easy thing to do. "It's not just about gathering data from 10 or 20 devices," she said. "Because there are some groups of companies that are trying to share API. You need to do a lot more than that."
Privacy is a big challenge here. "Once you start to collect all the data into one infrastructure, into one cloud, you want to make sure that the consumer, the patient has full control over who can access what data, for what purposes and when," said Ben-Zur. Another challenge: making sure the data being shared on the platform is good, so users can get good insights and recommendations. There are many devices on the market that track steps and heart rate, for example, but they work with varying degrees of accuracy.
Then comes actually turning all that data into information people can use. "It's not just about big data analytics and algorithms which is what people like to talk about," says Ben-Zur. She envisions combining big data insights with knowledge from people like doctors, nutritionists and behavioral change experts. "The idea is to be able to start to integrate and correlate data from these different data sources so that we can have a more kind of longitudinal view of who you are...that could result in programs that are built to be able to make more informed decisions."
Survey: Harnessing the power of big data and IoT (Tech Pro Research)
Top IoT and wearable tech trends for 2016: Smartwatches in transition as smartglasses rule (TechRepublic)
How open-source software could save your life (TechRepublic)
Samsung wants to help IoT speak a common language (TechRepublic)
Amy Talbott is a former associate editor at TechRepublic.