Business | Technology

Fitness apps eclipse 3-D TVs as digital health reaches CES

Even with their rising popularity, health-related wearables and fitness apps have limitations

  • AP
  • Published: 15:58 January 6, 2014
  • Gulf News

Las Vegas: Cardiologist Samir Damani hasn’t really fit in at the International CES in Las Vegas, where 3D televisions, connected cars and the latest gaming consoles abound. Until this year.

As founder of MD Revolution, Damani is developing software that lets consumers monitor their health, nutrition and fitness on smartphones. At CES, formerly called the Consumer Electronics Show, he’s introducing RevUp, which uses data from devices such as Fitbit’s Wi-Fi scale and the Withings blood-pressure monitor and supplements it with lab tests to provide customised advice.

Of the 3,300 companies exhibiting at the conference, starting on January 7, about 300 are focused on digital health, said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association. Looking to gain customers in a market that’s expected to quadruple by 2018, companies are unveiling wearable health and fitness monitors, sensors for the home and software to tie it all together, providing real-time data for consumers.

“We are really moving from a doctor-centric society to a patient-centric society,” Damani said in an interview. “We are trying to give people control.”

CES, which last year attracted more than 152,000 people, is dedicating 40 per cent more floor space to digital health exhibitors this year than in 2013. LG Electronics is introducing a fitness band; Reebok International is showcasing a skullcap with sensors; and startup Lively, which makes sensors for the elderly, will show technology that lets other developers link to its products.

Even with their rising popularity, health-related wearables and fitness apps have limitations, said Nick Martin, a vice president in the innovation and research group at insurer UnitedHealth Group. While the technology can help consumers monitor their activities and improve their habits, it won’t remove the need for traditional care, he said.

“Although a personal wearable device is certainly a trend, it does not necessarily replace good old fashioned face-to-face meetings,” Martin said. “We see it as a way to augment care.”

Since its debut in 1967, CES has been a hotspot for product introductions. That includes the videocassette recorder in 1970, the compact-disc player in 1981 and Blu-ray disc players in 2003.

“The wearables section and digital health sections are going to be huge this year,” said Shapiro, whose organization runs CES. “If participation is a judge for both markets, then it should be pretty significant.”


Mainstream adoption

Digital health and fitness technology is just starting to gain mainstream adoption. The market will grow to as much as $8 billion in revenue by 2018 from about $2 billion in 2013, according to John Curran, a managing director at Accenture in Seattle.

“We’re seeing a really broad range of products and growing consumer interest in them,” Curran said.

This is the first year that MD Revolution will have its own exhibit at CES, after sharing space last year, Damani said. He started the company in 2011, after realising that he was able to reduce the number of visits patients made to his cardiology clinic when they took home blood-pressure monitors and e-mailed him the results.

More companies are entering the digital health category now that regulators have clarified their position. In September, the FDA said it would apply oversight only to mobile applications that are used as medical devices and would exercise “enforcement discretion” on fitness-related apps.

Declining costs of hardware components and the growing need for consumers to cut medical expenses are also spurring innovation, said Rob Lineback, an analyst at chip-researcher IC Insights Inc. The average price of a mobile-fitness system will fall to $100 by 2017, from about $215 today, Lineback said.

“A lot of people worry about their health,” Lineback said. “Now they have some devices so they can track their own health and not always go to the doctor.”

The line between health and fitness devices is blurring. Sporting-goods maker Reebok is attending CES for the first time this year after releasing CheckLight, a skullcap whose sensors are designed to track head injuries. Startup Zamzee will announce at CES that it’s working with UnitedHealthcare Services Inc. to offer its $30 wearable device that lets kids track their health and get rewards.

LG plans to announce a fitness band with an organic light- emitting diode (OLED) screen that can display information from a smartphone, such as what music is playing. The company is also introducing Bluetooth headphones with a built-in heart rate monitor, taking on Jawbone, whose Up bracelet has gained traction by letting consumers monitor their physical activities.

“People are buying things like the Jawbone Up because that’s the only game in town,” Tim Alessi, director of new product development at LG, said in an interview. “We can bring unique functionality and new value.”

HeartMath LLC, which uses an ear-based sensor and smartphone to monitor a person’s well-being, will roll out a new service at CES that can be accessed from any device. MIO Global will show two wrist-based heart rate monitors connected to a mobile app, which will let users at the show virtually climb Machu Picchu or ride the Tour de France.

“We’ll have a bike set up, and will be projecting the app to a big screen at CES,” Liz Dickinson, the company’s founder, said in an interview.

Lively makes technology for the elderly, providing sensors for pill boxes, refrigerators and keychains that tell caregivers if seniors are following their daily routines. Companies that want to attach their services to Lively’s will find out how they can at CES.

Demand for elderly care products is also coming from China and Japan, which has the highest proportion of elderly citizens in the world, said David Glickman, a Lively co-founder.

GrandCare Systems LLC, which will present its elderly-care technology at CES, expects revenue to increase six-fold in 2014, as it expands sales to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and other countries, said Chief Executive Officer Daniel Maynard. The company also plans to sell its monitoring service on Amazon.com and its own e-commerce site.

“Before, there was a technical aspect to installation,” Maynard said. “Today it’s consumer ready.”

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