Beyond step-counting: The future of wearables

Makers of wearables are looking for new things to track about your body, even if they need to poke inside it.

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The Moov wearable can be worn on the ankle as well as the wrist and can communicate with other Moov devices. Moov

Wearables are gearing up to land on different parts of your body and measure things far beyond the step count that their developers say will be far more actionable.

My previous column about Nike's shift from churning out wearable hardware to software raised questions about both its role and the future of electronics on one's person. But that's not stopping a host of entrants. Even though Nike failed to make the headway it wanted in hardware, other established brands are stepping up. Garmin, for example, which started in wearables with its first GPS watch more than a decade ago, is moving into the smartband space with Vivofit, and Polar -- well-known by exercisers who use chest straps to measure heart rate -- has decided to stay in the Loop.

Since the fitness-tracking market started heating up, some of the smaller startups in the space have pushed accelerator-based products toward more sophisticated athletes. Examples include Atlas, a wearable band that can discern fine distinctions between different exercises, and Push, a tracker that is focused on strength training versus running.

But in order to stay one step ahead of basic movement tracking integrated into smartphones, wellness-focused wearables are going to need to expand their scope. A number of products in the pipeline up the ante on wearable intelligence and actionability.

Moov

Like many in the category, Moov is a wearable that can be worn on the wrist. However, unlike other products, it also can be worn on other parts of the body such as the ankle. In fact, where you wear Moov and what you do while wearing it will help determine the coaching it gives you. You can even combine Moovs for certain exercise types such as boxing, in which two are worn around the wrists.

Spire

Most wearable fitness products measure steps; Spire has that box checked off as well. But the waist-worn wearable and its companion app are really focused on monitoring breathing. In this, it follows biofeedback products from HeartMath and StressEraser. However, those products are session-based. In contrast, Spire continuously monitors your breathing and claims it can ascertain much about what and how you're doing from your breathing (combined with how you're moving). Based on this, it can prompt you to do breathing exercises that the company claims can help lower stress and improve wellness.

SugarSenz

Those managing their diabetes are often familiar beyond their level of desire with the need to manage their blood glucose. But, according to Dr. Robert Boock, CEO of Glucovation, everyone from ordinary couch potatoes to elite marathoners has an interest in maintaining sensible blood glucose variability. However, it can be tricky to determine the right variables in terms of nutrition and output. A small, disposable part of the SugarSenz lives under the skin to continuously monitor your blood glucose.

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HeartMath biofeedback device. HeartMath

Paradoxically, while Boock says the SugarSenz is generally more accurate than today's consumer glucometers, it wants to avoid the medical market due to the need for Food and Drug Administration approval. Still, he says most people can make positive changes in their blood glucose variability in a matter of weeks with the right feedback. Glucovation has a crowdfunding campaign to fund development of the product. However, as it's an equity campaign for accredited investors, there are no product-based rewards. Indeed, the SugarSenz isn't expected to arrive for another two years.

For all of the innovation coming to the quantified self, there is still no way to bring all this presumed accurate information together in order to form a coherent and comprehensive picture of one's well-being. For that, we'll still rely on medical professionals for the foreseeable future, albeit ones who may be better informed with historical data versus today's common diagnostic aids.

 

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