In the mass marketplace, the word “wearables” is synonymous with fitness trackers and smartwatches. They’re devices that help people collect data about their health and exercise performance, and they make it easy to access smartphone functions.
But that’s actually a small slice of the wearable ecosystem.
Companies are developing fascinating products that promise to alleviate common problems — and they’re doing it without a wrist-based device.
But what are the unique challenges and obstacles that come with non-wrist based wearables?
The panel “Flashtech - Moving Away From The Wrist” at the Wearable Technology Show gathered three wearable company founders to discuss the challenges in developing their products. The panel was hosted by Monisha Perkash, CEO & co-founder at Lumo Body Tech. The panel discussed the struggle to find product/market fit, the importance of partnerships that can lead to learning opportunities, and the path to mass market adoption.
Dr. Brett Winger, co-founder of Halo Neuroscience, said that user experience issues become more challenging when you don’t have a device that straps on your arm. His company's product uses neurostimulation to help athletes perform at their peak.
“One of the biggest challenges once you move away from the wrist is making something that doesn’t just work — but also fits into people’s lives,” he said. It’s important to create products that people simply enjoy using and wearing. This is particularly relevant in his niche of brain products, where great engineering can’t save a product that is poorly designed.
Philo Northrup, co-founder of ActivBody, shared his company’s journey in developing their product. The ActivBody is a small, portable exercise device that can guide you through a workout anywhere. Perkash got a chance to demo it right on stage.
Northup said that one of his company’s earliest mistakes was “over engineering” the first model. It was so new, people didn’t positively respond to it. ActivBody had to work to make it more intuitive. “We had to take a step back,” he said, “and think about ‘what if you didn’t know what was?’”
Northup also said that partnerships were one of the most important ways to learn more about their product. Two of the biggest health insurance providers in the country will work with ActivBody on corporate wellness programs, which he anticipates will lead to wealth of good information about the product. But their dream partnership would allow them to launch ActivBody outside of Earth’s orbit. “NASA,” he said, “using this in space.”
Hugo Mercier, of Rhythm, agreed that finding a product that fits in the market is a major challenge. His company builds a headband that improves sleep through brain stimulation. “It’s not only about finding a product that works, or a technology that works,” he said. “But finding the right product for the right segment and the right user.”
What will it take for these products to be bought and used by the general public?
Winger said that growth for a product should be organic. He recognized that having professional athletes and other high-achieving people using a product helps, but mass market adoption comes down to product performance. The product has to work so well, people refer it to their friends.
“If something works, and if it feels good to use, then it’s gradually going to get out there in the mindset,” he said. “If it helps you do what you do, you’re going to be aware of that.”