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NEW PURPOSE AGE: WEARABLES AND THE QUANTIFIED SELF
September 14, 2023
The idea of the “Quantified Self” refers to the cultural phenomenon of self-tracking with technology, and to a community of users and makers of tools who share an interest in “self-knowledge through numbers”. Everything we do has the potential to create data. With wearable technology, that data can be captured, quantified, analysed and interpreted to nudge behaviours in the a direction that a user finds the most beneficial.
Personal empowerment: the quantified self-movement empowers individuals to take control of their health and well-being. By tracking fitness, nutrition, sleep, and other lifestyle factors, people can make informed decisions to improve their overall health.
Lilian Chen, head of international affairs & senior planner at Wondercise.
Setting aside the obvious issues around data privacy (which we will cover in more detail later), issues around user’s health literacy skills in relation to self-tracking are a key concern.
While most users engaging in self tracking practices gather data for knowledge and improvement, no two humans are identical, and it’s impossible to individually account for the impact of data.
Additionally, no two devices are exactly the same. The variations in how data can be recorded can result in some wild swings, which on a day-to-day basis can cause anxiety or confusion among wearers trying to make the best decisions for themselves. So, being able to care for users as individuals becomes incredibly important.
“We can cause further stress by seeing poor outcomes. I think there are some potential downsides to consider. For example, there’s a risk that people may become too focused on the numbers and metrics, rather than paying attention to how they actually feel.
They might also become overly stressed or anxious about their data, or make unhealthy choices based on what the data says. And of course, there’s the issue of data privacy and security, which is always a concern when so much personal information is being collected and analysed.” Anna Gudmundson, CEO and co-founder of Sensate.
There has been a surge in devices specifically monitoring sleep patterns for many of the same reasons that people use fitness wearables allowing users to optimise the overall sleep experience.
While lab-based sleep tests generally track patterns directly through brain activity, sleep trackers rely on sensors to detect other physical signs related to heart rate and motion.
Devices like Fitbits offer this functionality, but more targeted devices like the Oura Ring offer a depth of metrics to evaluate sleep vs daytime activity. For instance, it translates your body data into three scores – a sleep score, activity score, and readiness score – to assess the quality of your sleep, rest, and daily physical activity. Great for safeguarding health in a well-rounded way.
More than half of respondents to a study by Ipsos Mori (58%) say they think about their own mental wellbeing often. In fact, more than three quarters (76%) say mental health and physical health are equally important. It’s only natural that people will use every tool available to monitor and maintain their headspace, so naturally there are plenty of devices offering features in this space.
At the extreme medical science end of the spectrum, a lot of research has gone into using wearable tech to identify and alleviate the symptoms of medical disorders like depression and anxiety. Deep learning has been employed to discover the complex associations of bio-reading variables with mental disorders, but this is still in its relative infancy, and not much of that innovation has transferred to the B2C space.
While it would be unfair to call out mental health-focused wearables as glorified 1990s mood rings, it is the area where promises are most decoupled from actionable scientific data. Fitness and sleep wearables can obviously assist in mental wellbeing if users stick to their recommendations, but addressing mental health as a whole remains largely beyond the reach of a wearable.
More broadly speaking, over-reliance and obsession with technology, data and its recommendations can have a negative impact on overall mental health.
We strive to be a company attentive to purpose and impact. It is our mission to help individuals thrive, by overcoming the effects of stress and anxiety in daily life, in order for humanity to thrive. Anna Gudmundson, CEO and co-founder of Sensate.
Style and status
Wearable tech has certainly had some mis-steps in the style and status department – nobody ever looked cool wearing Google Glass for example, but marrying technology with fitness has allowed a hierarchy to emerge among devices. Amazfit and Samsung are market leaders at fusing fashion with innovative technology, for example.
It would be easy to see the Apple Watch as a high water mark for attaching complex computing devices to a body and leave it at that. But, with the very crowded market in the wearables space, a canny marketer needs to take all of the cultural and societal baggage associated with each device in order to identify and occupy a specific niche. We’ve mentioned luxury devices previously, and those that do tackle certain functions better than others, but these remain the tip of the iceberg.
Do you know what wearable device is the most popular with Millennials joggers vs Gen X rowing fanatics? Because there is data that will find you that answer if you need it. Even devices that might technically be better at recording or analysing certain types of workout or bio markers might be completely miscategorised by users and its own brand due to the sheer breadth of different measuring tools and analytics systems being used.
It’s less a question of comparing apples to oranges as it is comparing an apple to every fruit grown in the last 10 years.
However, outside of wearables as status or luxury symbols, usability and efficacy remain king. Proving that and backing it up in a way that convinces your core demographic is a challenge that requires careful calibration and a masterful understanding of your device’s own data.
For niche products targeted at specific health conditions, users are often well-educated about their condition. They may even tolerate a product that is more challenging to use or slightly uncomfortable, provided it offers tangible assistance with their disease or health issue. Anna Gudmundson, CEO and co-founder of Sensate
As we expand our footprint globally and explore validation and localisation opportunities in different regions, we can understand the unique needs and preferences of diverse markets. Then we can tailor our fitness solutions to better serve users worldwide. Collaborating with communities allows us to create a more inclusive and culturally relevant fitness experience. Lilian Chen: head of international affairs & senior planner at Wondercise.
Despite advances in tech, mental health is not something that can be fixed by wearables.
Devices can harm more than help and brands need to be mindful of overloading consumers with data.
Style remains king. Consumers care about how things look so brands that fuse fashion and good tech will remain ahead of the pack. Data can only take brands so far.
Diversifying is going to be key as the sector evolves – products won’t work in all markets so those brands that can be agile will win.
Consumers aren’t as data savvy as brands expect them to be and wearable tech needs to facilitate easier understanding and use of data if they are going to survive in a saturated market.