Blog Post: How Owning A Useful Device Might Have Changed My Mind On Wearables

In the past 12 months, most of the conversation around wearable technology has related to how “useful” the devices are. When I say conversation, it’s not necessarily questioning if current the technology is useful. There’s no question of that, when you compare devices released by Pebble, Samsung, Nike and others. The only reason anyone is questioning how useful any of these devices are is because they aren’t really selling up to expectations.

That hasn’t stopped people from coming up with their reasoning why wearables aren’t useful yet. I’ve been on that same bandwagon, espousing the duplicitous nature of these gadgets. They promise more than what your smartphone is providing, yet when a blogger’s Fuelband or Fitbit has issues, more and more aren’t making the same effort to get them back into action.

I’m here to potentially backtrack that rhetoric, slightly.

At the suggestion of my doctor, and some trepidation on my part, I joined the wearable revolution recently by adding a continuous glucose monitoring system to my health regiment. Pictured above, the Dexcom G4 connects a sensor and transmitter attached to my body to a wireless receiver via bluetooth. While it does not necessarily “test” my blood sugar constantly, it does use the numbers from my regular glucose tests as part of a complex algorithm to show me where I currently stand and how my body is trending.

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In a sense, I made myself a cyborg to get better real-time data into my current health to make less drastic decisions during my daily care of Type I diabetes.

Before I get all the comments on Twitter, I realize there is quite a difference between a small circle that tracks how many steps I have taken every day and an implanted sensor that delivers real time blood sugar stats to a device. What time with this technology has taught me, however, isn’t that different than the current challenges in this product category:

  • This was completely optional. I was not required to have this device to live. Giving you control of it wouldn’t put my life in your hands (unlike an insulin pump), just gives more relevant data throughout the day. That said, real value was generated from this device and made it’s purchase and use well worth it.
  • Data is not always 100 percent accurate. The device woke me up four times in the middle of the night when I first brought it home even though I knew I wasn’t as high or low as advertised. It took several days before the algorithm really started to get to know me a bit and adjust to my body accordingly. There were also many days where the device was 50 points off — which is a gigantic disparity in Diabetesland.
  • My dashboard of information fails a bit in terms of data overload while at the same time of not putting it into relevance. Anyone with a fitness band knows what I’m talking about here. While the current number I’m at is the only vital data needed, there is a ton of other stuff that might help diabetics if the UI helped frame trends properly.
  • It’s more than a pain that I can’t have this thing connect to my iPhone. My Dexcom receiver uses bluetooth, as does my smartphone. It would be awesome to carry only one piece of hardware. For the record guys, we make apps for a living, we should talk.
  • With all the talk of data security in health, I haven’t met one person that feels strange about this information being public. My wife can check my numbers without even waking me up in the middle of the night and have peace of mind. That fact right there make the G4 invaluable to me. Putting data in patients hands only improves the job of doctors, why can’t we stop the stranglehold on medical information and release a bit more?

I could go on, but honestly this is just after a short while of use. As I use my device more, the learning will improve and my ideas will crystalize more. Does this really change how I feel about smart watches, fitness bands, and the future of wearable technology? I would initially say, “a little” with the caveat that the same takeaways from my medial wearable should be utilized for consumer devices.

We need to help consumers understand how valuable the right kind of data is. Instead of selling devices based upon the glut of raw data available, companies should help write apps that put the right context around really useful data. My blood pressure by itself isn’t very helpful, but taking the number in context of my work calendar and combine my glucose numbers to help me understand how my day went in the office.

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Consumers also can’t expect perfection in the data department, and learn to look at a single reading for what it is: part of the larger picture of your life. I don’t freak out when my receiver beeps at me anymore, because I know that I don’t have to overreact anymore. The number may be off, or I may need to make a small tweak. See the bigger picture.

Finally, we need to understand that the smartphone will be the hub of our lives for the foreseeable future. Recent tablet sales numbers have shown that as much as we want larger screens, nothing is replacing my iPhone anytime soon. As such, I don’t need devices to replicate any of the functionality I currently enjoy. There’s no different between raising my arm to see a text and raising my phone as long as I have to push a button either way. I have to carry my receiver because I can’t get my CGM’s numbers, but you can bet as soon as I can get Dexcom to make an app I will be ditching the device.

So, I may not be ditching the dis on wearable devices anytime soon, it won’t be because I don’t really see them as useless. I just know what they are capable of if the focus on delivering true value is chased after. If I can help one small bit in making that happen, I will be one happy diabetic.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to implant some more technology into my body. It’s time to shift testing areas.

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