Battle of the (wrist)Bands at the Digital Health Summit, 2013 CES

fitbit-flex-xlOne of the fastest-growing segments at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week is digital health. And within that segment, there’s a battle brewing for what technology companies seem to think is the most valuable part of real estate on the human body: the wrist.

I counted at least fifty products as I cruised aisles 26000-27000 in the South Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center that had wristbands, usually black, plastic or rubbery, and often able to click in and out of the band for use in-hand, in pocket, or in a few cases, on a lanyard or pendant device.

But it’s the wrist that is the body-part favorite for the category. And this trend falls into the category of a herd mentality that Michael Yang of Comcast Ventures spoke about in a session on Tuesday when he discussed the investment climate for digital health. Yang’s fund at Comcast Ventures has invested in several health products and service companies in  their portfolio, among them Accolade and BodyMedia. The latter company is here at #2013CES with their latest version of their FDA regulated device, the CORE 2, a slimmer version of their armband product that also offers a blingy silver metal band option for the fashionista fitness person. The product is also being marketed in a new affiliation with The Biggest Loser TV franchise.

Bodymedia colorThe fashion aspect has grown this year in the Battle of the (wrist)Bands, too, so that while black rubber and plastic still dominate the scene, many device companies are offering a Pantone-inspired palette of color options. The Fitbit Flex (in black)  is the company’s newest tracker which integrates a sleep function into the strap device. But Fitbit’s simple Zip tracker comes in five different hues. The Fitbug Orb (Fitbug of the UK, not to be confused with the Fitbit company) activity tracker is fuschia pink, white or black, and can also, like many devices, do its thing while sitting in a pocket.

There are a few activity tracking devices that are operating in other body-real estate locations. In the above-the-neck category, the intriguing Valencell is a sensor-based tracker that is licensed to third parties; the first licensee is iRiver, which has developed an earbud system integrating the Valencell technology so that, while you’re listening to your tunes, the earbud is sensing blood flow to the ear and measuring activity while, say, you’re running or walking on the treadmill. An app records in real-time the heart activity and so the user can keep track of her exercise efficiency.

A new entrant at 2013 CES is Sonny Vu, whose Misfit Wearables is taking a more flexible approach to digital health with its Shine disc, which is a slick coin-sized tracker that can be wworn in a variety of ways: on a wrist, popped into one of several bands Misfit is offering, via pendant, and eventually in t-shirts and on belts, Vu envisions.

PrintHealth Populi’s Hot Points: In his talk, Michael Yang observed that suppliers in the digital health category seemed to have read the same playbook that “somebody” might have published in a blog or delivered in an industry speech. In the 50+ “booth encounters” i’ve had here at #2013CES, I perceive so much me-too-ness. While I’ve no doubt from the forecaster side of my brain there’s growing demand for self-tracking, I’ve also no doubt there will be a market shakeout, and soon, among those companies who are offering more value that surrounds these devices and their “small data” generated by sensors, which are getting cheaper and more clever. People need feedback mechanisms and actionable advice, social support, and personalization/customization options (fashion- and other-wise). Those developers who take these devices beyond gadgetry and the initial sale of the device (whose price-points sit remarkably around the $99 vicinity) and consider the user’s total sustainable experience, intentions and health-aspirations, will survive the Battle of the (wrist)Bands.




About Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist, advisor and trend-weaver to organizations at the intersection of health, technology and people. Jane founded THINK-Health after spending a decade as a health care consultant in firms in the U.S. and Europe. Jane’s clients are all stakeholders in health, including technology, bio/life sciences, providers, plans, financial services, consumer products, public sector and not-for-profit organizations. Jane founded the Health Populi blog in 2007, covering health policy, technology, and consumers.

16 Responses to Battle of the (wrist)Bands at the Digital Health Summit, 2013 CES

  1. Nirav Desai April 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Great post. I’m totally with you on the prediction that there will be a shakeout. Of course, the market has room for competition, but it frankly does not have room for 50 versions of the same type of product (at least not initially). Some of these companies may survive by owning a niche. Others, like you say, will have to expand their solution to a more complete and sustainable user experience – in order to win. Frankly, they’ll probably have to do both (a total experience within a niche).
    – Nirav


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