A couple of weeks ago, I saw an interesting piece on Forbes, entitled “Wearables Are Missing a Crucial Aspect: Community.” This article was the third in a still-ongoing, six-part series by Jennifer Elias entitled, “The Leftovers: Why the Communities Who Could Benefit Most from Wearables Are Being Left Behind.”
The overall thrust of the series (I went back and read the prior two articles as well) is that there are many different populations in the U.S. who might benefit greatly from wearables. But, for a variety of reasons, they’re not yet being served by the wearables industry.
Diabetes. Obesity. Heart disease. There are many chronic health conditions where wearables make sense, both from an overall health perspective and from a cost-benefit perspective.
Medication and appointment compliance-based devices, experts say, could not only improve healthy habits but also decrease costs incurred.
These problems are particularly prevalent in lower-socioeconomic and minority communities. But in populations struggling financially, wearables – if they’re seen at all – are perceived as a pricey gadget, with little relevance to real life.
… in order to understand the barriers for at-risk people in attaining such technology, [the Public Health Institute’s Iana] Simeonov says one has to look at the barriers of everyday life for these communities. “Low-income communities suffer from many problems: lack of accessibility to food, lack of sidewalks, you name it,” Simeonov says. “If there isn’t any place to go for a walk, the [wearables] advice is hollow.”
Not to mention the very real tradeoff that someone with limited income might have to face in terms of purchasing a wearable. Food on the table vs. a Fitbit. Shoes for the kids vs. a smartwatch. Hmmmm.
To date, the primary audience for wearables has been white, middle-aged, male, and relatively affluent. Not necessarily, in Simeonov’s words, “the people who need it the most.”
In terms of addressable market alone, it would be foolish to ignore the needs of the minority community, especially given the demographic shifts underway that are moving the US towards becoming a “majority-minority” nation. And it would be just plain wrong to ignore the potential for wearables to truly improve the health of our poorer communities.
The various populations being left out of wearable tech production phases are the same ones that will be driving the next generation of consumer electronics. These groups, experts say, are crucial to the development of effective wearables especially since the next consumer-base is a highly diverse America.
It’s not just the lower-income African-American and Hispanic populations who are being ignored by the wearables industry.
Elias makes the point that adolescents – the most tech-savvy group out there – are also not included in “wearable world”. This may be because health consciousness is usually not all that high among teenagers. But, with growing rates of adolescent obesity (and the complications, like diabetes, that accompany it), it would be wise to place some focus on “the kids.”
Women, in general, are not having their wearable needs met, either. They’re looking for engagement beyond competing against themselves or their colleagues to see who can take the most steps in a day.
In her series, Elias is raising a number of provocative issues. From my perspective, the wearables industry needs to start doing a better job at making their products appealing enough to move beyond the first- and second-wave technology adopters.
One way to widen the appeal is to make using a wearable a more engaging experience, and one way to do that is to build a wearables community experience.
Most wearables today focus on an individual user but by widening the cast, there may not only be more fish to catch but greater potential for disruption.
We believe that Autumn Saxton-Ross, program director at the National Collaborative for Health Equity, put it best: "…the only way to conquer illness with wearables is through the communities in which they travel… It’s crucial to use this technology as a way to increase engagement between communities whether it’s a physical location or folks suffering from the same condition. This is a tremendous opportunity to get to the roots of these issues not just if you’re eating well or being active.”
Here are the links to the other two articles (to date) in this series: