Wearable Tech World Feature Article
February 19, 2014

Are "Talking" Wearable Health Devices and Apps a Little too Motherly?

If the analysts are to be believed, we can’t get enough of medical apps on our personal devices, and love them so much that we’ll eventually want to wear them on our bodies. Small apps on our iPhones are turning into wrist bands or other devices that we wear, and they can monitor our vital signs and even remind us to live in a more healthful way. However you look at it, the market is exploding.

According to a report released last year by Transparency Market Research called, "Wearable Medical Devices Market (Heart Rate Monitors, Activity Monitors, ECG, Pulse (News - Alert) Oximeters, EEG, EMG, Glucose/Insulin Management, Pain Management, Wearable Respiratory Therapy) - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 - 2019," the global market for wearable medical devices was valued at $2 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach an impressive $5.8 billion in 2019. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.4 percent from 2013 to 2019.

That’s a lot of apps and wrist bands. But where the market may be headed, at least in part, is in “talking” apps and devices that will speak to us: reminding us to get exercise, get sleep or take our medication, and praising us when we eat our vegetables. Some devices intended for emergency use (defibrillators, for example, or epinephrine pens for severely allergic people) already talk users through using the equipment.

Today, more and more device makers are using the “talking device” technology now to create more patient-friendly products, Benjamin Arcand, an engineer and product innovator in the medical devices field, and associate director of the innovation fellows program at the University of Minnesota's Medical Devices Center recently told the Web site HealthDay.

"People have been thinking about talking devices for a long time. The technology has been trying to rise up above the surface for a long time," Arcand said. "What I think you'll see is user-friendliness is going to go up over time," Arcand said. "About 10 or 20 years ago, we saw this huge bloom of all these medical devices. Now that the industry is maturing and there's more regulation and less funding capital, new device development is slowing down."

As Americans become more accustomed to interacting with voice prompts (we’re pretty used to it already, having been doing it with interactive voice response, or IVR, technology for years), we may become more accustomed to obeying orders from our phones, watches, Google Glass devices or wristbands.

The fashionable and health conscious among us are already wearing the Up24 wristband by Jawbone, which connects wirelessly with your smartphone and tracks how much you eat, sleep, exercise and generally move during the day. While it doesn’t talk to you – yet – it would seem that many of us are perfectly pleased to have a digital “mother” watching our health habits. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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