How popular are health and wellness apps and how do you see their popularity developing in the future?
Most people have a reasonable idea of what to do to be healthy. It's about getting a good balance between what you put into your body and what you do with your body. Getting it right is pretty difficult as it seems everything is stacked up against us - sugary and fatty foods can taste really good and our working lives leave little time for exercise or enough sleep. Apps can help in the following ways:
By lowering the barrier to getting starting - anyone thinking about trying to improve their lifestyle can download a free app and give it a go. You can do that in literally seconds.
Giving actionable data when you need it - your phone is usually with you when it matters. When you're ordering in a restaurant or out for a run. It can give you immediate advice and feedback on your actions. Shortening the cycle between making a decision and knowing the consequences is really important to the psychology of a healthy lifestyle.
Connecting you with help - the phone puts you in touch with people and organisations, whether it's reaching out to friends on Facebook, finding out how others doing the same things are getting on or getting a call from a healthcare professional.
The free apps are pretty popular with the most successful having tens of millions of downloads, but it's apps that work with devices that I think are really exciting.
The product and the app are becoming a single entity where one doesn't make sense without the other. In the next few years there will be more and more of these. Even regulated medical devices are moving in this direction with the diabetes market leading the way.
How important do you think wearable tech will be for health and wellness in the future?
I think wearable is key. To really understand what someone is doing, you need to be on the body rather than in the pocket like a phone. Bluetooth Smart is a key enabler here as you can now make devices that work with your phone but that you can put on your wrist or shoes and keep there for months at a time.
To what extent do you think these kind of apps are genuinely useful in helping users to improve and maintain their health?
If you look at the medical end of the spectrum then the benefits are very clear. A great example is something like the continuous glucose monitor where users have an app to help them look at their blood glucose trends. Just being able to easily see the trend in readings is valuable - there's a big difference between having a high reading that is going down and a high reading that is going up. But you can really understand the benefit when you look at the case of a Mum trying to control the blood sugar of a toddler. Having the recent trend data can help stop a tummy bug turning into a hospital admission for a young diabetic. In the wellness area there's lots of data showing that when people can track their activity and diet they immediately become better at managing it as well.
On the flip side, in what ways could they also be a hindrance?
It is possible to design in features that really annoy users; top of the list is probably uncontrollable sharing of data with social media. People want to be in control of this and are happy to share but mostly only where there is a benefit in doing so and when they can choose not to if they don't feel like it. Devices help to change this - because companies get a revenue stream from device sales, they are under less pressure to subsidise their income with ads and so can keep the social media features limited to those that their users want.
What impact has the Android open platform had on the development of health and fitness products and services?
Sadly the impact of Android is much smaller that it could be. Android is actually lagging here. Following on from Nike+, Apple did a great job of getting Bluetooth Smart into the iPhone 4S back in 2011. Android only added support earlier this year and what they did is behind where Apple was in 2011. When you also take into account that that it takes a long time for any updates in Android to reach the majority of users, I think it will be some time before they catch up with Apple.
What kind of new health and wellness tech developments do you think we could expect in the coming year?
More wearables. There are a number of companies establishing themselves in this space such as Fitbit and Jawbone with competing devices and services and the competition in the market is encouraging innovation. However the really exciting opportunity in my mind is for medical devices. More companies are seeing a route through regulation to get medical devices to market and so I'd expect to see more specific devices and services for treating particular conditions. I think the uptake of app enabled devices for fitness applications is likely to be mirrored in the medical sector soon, with diabetes treatments innovating first but others following quickly.
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