Wearable devices and the future of our homes

Jul 9, 2013
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The new Flex device from Fitbit released in January, the new Pulse device from the French Withings announced this month, and rumored revamp of the current Nike+ FuelBand later this year make the self tracking devices a hot market right now.

So far, these companies have been working hard to add more input variables into their devices, to expand the possibilities of their ecosystems. Withings started as a smart scale and now is a full-fledged health monitoring system with weight, body fat measurements, outdoor activities, sleep, heart rate, blood pressure and indoor air quality.

The consumer market for self-tracking devices rides on the quantified self trend that is growing fast in Europe. Products like Google Glass and smart watches like the Pebble will only push this trend further, and the quality of the ecosystem of each of these companies can determine their success.

What if these devices could understand how I feel, what I need, what I did during the day, and what I will most likely want to do that evening? And what if this information could be passed to my home, a digital automated home? Individual tracking has the power to harness the potential of the automated home. We’ve seen attempts to connect all of our appliances at home, and the Internet of things can make this a reality, but without consumer-oriented integration this will only add a layer of complexity to our already crowded tech day-to-day activities.

Could it be that the automated home hasn’t yet taken off because of the lack of integration with our lifestyle? Is it possible that smart user insights can make the automated home make sense? I don’t see digital homes becoming mainstream for the sheer purpose of digitifying our lives, they need to add value for the user without complexity. If my kitchen knows I’m low on Vitamin C, it can adjust my daily food plan, or if my living room knows I fell asleep on the sofa, it can dim the lights and turn off the television.

What’s interesting is that what started as fitness tracking devices have developed into a powerful ecosystem of user’s body information, their databases evolved into a valuable asset to feed our home’s digital brain, and it might as well be the needed trigger to shift towards a true integrated home! Most of these ecosystems are opening their huge data sets to developers – like the RunKeeper Health Graph – they need to become the de facto platform for the personal tracking experience. Nike on the other hand has a walled garden ecosystem a la Apple (is that why Tim Cook wears a Nike FuelBand?). If a closed platform in this arena can survive in the long run is for time to tell.

What do we need to see happening next? For one we need these tracking devices to get more input variables like continuous heart rate monitoring (without the awkward bands), to integrate the function of different devices into one – like having the function of the Sanofi iBG Star into a tracking wristband, and also to have more devices feeding into this ecosystem, with more complex body variables – could toilets measure our body waste composition and infer on our health?

If these ecosystems are open, the potential for creating a truly intelligent and connected home is huge! The connected home needs to react to my emotions, to my lifestyle, and to my health. And the winner in the battle for self tracking devices will come from the one with the most complete ecosystem, with intelligent insights delivered to third party developers. The device itself will mean nothing: all of the current devices will merge in our smart watches anyway!