Health meets wearable devices

As integrated as modern technology has become in our lives, whether it be social networking and the abundance of smartphone adoption, tech companies seem to be prepping for the next step: integrating tech with your body. And while it’s still nowhere from being a widely used tool or even a fashion statement, it seems that companies have found the next two industries to embrace in their products: fitness and health.

One of the first purveyors of bodily modification, Google, continues to develop its pet project Google Glass, introducing different designs, prescription glasses and expanding the program for wider use. With the recent update, one of the concerns Google has addressed is the look of the glases, streamlining it and adding new options for color.

This sounds like a superficial upgrade, but it’s ultimately one of the first hurdles that wearable technology has to overcome: actually looking good, and even being fashionable. It needs to become for head-displays what the iPod was for MP3 players, the iPhone for smartphones, and the iPad for tablets. This is especially true for something you’re expected to have on your face or your wrist.

Speaking of Apple, a recent rumor has emerged that the next iOS is going to renovate the mobile healthcare and fitness industry with a new set of applications, one dubbed “Healthbook,” that’s capable of monitoring and storing fitness statistics, calories burned, miles walked and even weight loss.

The centerpiece of these applications would be the often rumored iWatch, and it seems that its utilization in fitness tracking is that breakthrough clutch that would differentiate this new device from previous failed attempts for a digital “smartwatch,” which were either redundant, had weak computing power, or, to be frank, ugly.

Samsung just recently tried to get a headstart on Apple with its own smartwatch, called the Galaxy Gear, but it failed to catch on with millions of unsold units. The major flaw is that with something like a watch, people for the most part will get a watch for the fashionable aspect of it. A man doesn’t need a watch to check the time as much as an additional accessory . And if it doesn’t look good, no level of digital sophistication is going to matter.

Rather than competing against past attempts at a smartwatch, it appears that Apple, which has been hiring experts in health monitoring and medical statistics, is going after tracking accessories such as Fitbit or the Nike FuelBand. The rumored device will have sensors for heart rate, blood pressure and tracking in sync with the iPhone’s M7 chipset, which has a built-in pedometer.

Now all of this will be for naught if it doesn’t look good. Even if all of the rumors pan out, it will have to be something that can as much of a fashion item as it would a health device and a technological accessory. Someone who’s going to be conscious of their health and appearance tends to be the kind of person who would consider how their watch will look.

Nonetheless, Apple appears to be capitalizing on the fitness monitoring and its application to medical functionality would give it a utilitarian purpose instead of just an accessorized one. The company and others believe that healthcare is the next big thing for consumer technology. Nintendo announced just last week that it’s developing a third platform focused on health, having had great success in this field with the Wii Fit series and Brain Age.

And though technology’s primary function is to relieve the stress of living, people are always on the lookout for something that can be modern and pro-active. By turning these wearable accessories into something that could improve and monitor someone’s health, it pushes itself into something that can be integral instead of excessive.

Ultimately, however, people have to feel comfortable, or even just cool-looking, using these items. Considering the Google Glass still has its skeptics, we’re definitely a few years away from becoming impromptu cyborgs anytime soon.


Robert Calcagno is a graduate student studying Animation. His column “Tech Talk” runs Mondays.