Mobile health drives wearable computing

By Brian Dolan

Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThe history of wearable computing goes back at least 50 years, back when the military began developing displays built-in to headgear worn by pilots. A decade later brought wearables developed to determine how fast roulette wheels were spinning and the 1979 saw the launch of Sony's WalkMan. Jody Ranck's latest report for GigaOm covers this past, the present and potential future for wearable computers with a special focus on those developed for healthcare and fitness.

Over the years MobiHealthNews has mentioned an increasing number of wearables devices from Adidas' miCoach, to contact lenses with infrared displays, to Zephyr Technology's sensor-enabled clothing and more. The more recent crop of wearables include suped up pedometers and crowdfunded  breakout devices like the Pebble smart watch, which integrates with the popular RunKeeper app.

As we reported at the very beginning of the year, Sonny Vu, the co-founder of AgaMatrix, developer of the iPhone-enabled glucose meter iBGStar with Sanofi, founded a new startup called Misfit Wearables with former Apple CEO John Scully. Considering Vu's past success, his move to found a wearables startup certainly adds some substance to the trend.

A February 2012 report from ABI Research predicted that the number of wearable health and fitness devices will hit 169.5 million by 2017, up from just 21 million in 2011. A Forrester Research report that also dropped earlier this year, claimed that the wearable device market will be an important one for the big platform makers: including Apple, Google, and Microsoft.

While many of the devices in the wearables category today are wristworn and most of the headline grabbing devices are augmented reality plays, like Google's Project Glass, real innovation will likely take the form of smart clothing. The opportunity for passive monitoring is huge and wearables that take the form of things we already wear are much more likely to find adopters. I stopped wearing a watch as soon as my mobile phone could display the time. As innovators like Misfit Wearables follow the lead of pioneering companies like Zephyr Technology and Exmovere Holdings, watch this space.