Tuesday, March 05, 2013

An Apple watch could be a genius big-data play. Time will tell but the potential is there.


TRENDS TO NOTE: wearable computing, big data, sensor fusion, smartwatches.

An Apple watch? It seems like this prediction has been made several times before. But you know what they say about a broken clock...

Mobile watch accessories have been around for almost a decade. Back in 2006, Sony Ericsson together with Fossil introduced a sleek Bluetooth watch. It acted as a companion to Sony Ericsson handsets providing the bearer with some basic connectivity back to the phone. And Microsoft and partners brought out a series of "SPOT" connected watches around the same time. Despite many good efforts, there was little sincere consumer interest.

But smartwatches and fitness bands have become a resuscitated trend over the past year. (Please see the related smartwatch signals on my blog here.) Sony, Motorola, Jawbone, Nike, and others have introduced clever wrist-worn devices to keep users connected to their devices and to their bodies.

Now it looks like Apple is about to join in (beyond the nano that is). Some possible product leaks out of Apple are consistent and solid, and it is known that Apple has been gathering the talent to make a market for wearable computing products. So, will Apple be the company which gets the watch accessory spot on?

There is interesting speculation about Apple's implementation of extra sensors in such a device. I could imagine that an advanced wrist-worn computer could constantly collect information such as blood pressure, pulse/heart rate, body temperature, stress levels, and possibly sleep patterns. By combining such data with info from environmental sensors such as accelerometers, thermometers, barometers, altimeters, GPS receivers, air-quality sensors, and of course time & date could lead to a collection of vast amounts of correlated information. And it is exactly this sort of sensor fusion that big data is all about.

Apple has made stickiness an art form. And in an age of increased product commoditization, holding on tightly and fighting portability has been a very smart strategy to fight substitute products. [Americans would know this as the "Roach Motel" approach.] Apple could now be working on bringing more consumer content inside its walled garden: years' worth of data about a user's body, exercise patterns, and environmental exposure. This would be an extremely valuable addition to Apple's vault of bits and bytes.

Smartphones have become flat, dull, look-alike devices. Wearable accessories and big data are two trends that could break the monotony in the coming years. Just look at what Google is doing with Glass. Smartphone vendors would be wise to chime in before it's too late.

HP's Mobile Health blood pressure Monitoring Solution:
Constantly feeds info to the cloud on a patient's vitals.

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