Wearables: What Happens Next?

mHealth

We’re seeing a lot of buzz around wearable devices at the moment, fuelled by recently announced solutions from Apple, Google, Samsung amongst others. The wearables market is still in its infancy at the moment, but it may well be that the Apple Watch is the catalyst required for the market to boom. Think of the wearables market as being similar to the MP3 market when the iPod launched, it could be the turning point – but there are still issues and barriers to be aware of.

There are lots of opportunities out there when it comes to wearables, and one of the leading industries to embrace the technology is the burgeoning mHealth sector. Healthcare is universal which means it is has worldwide focus and has lots of possibilities, and there has been huge progress here, which is now forcing a change in consumer behaviour.

Now, we’re generally only seeing doctors when we’re sick, but thanks to wearable devices our medical information can be transmitted to the cloud, where doctors (human or digital) have instant access to the records required allowing them to take appropriate action in real-time, to the point where they can even predict issues.

Of course it goes without saying that ensuring the privacy of this personal health data is imperative, at the device itself, during transmission and when it’s stored in the cloud. This is such an important issue that we may now see national regulation authorities intervening in this field to ensure security is guaranteed.

Keeping Things Secure

A recent survey by retail tracking company GfK, showed that nearly 50% of consumers would like a smartwatch that could, in addition to storing health information, act as a travel ticket, perform payments, be an official ID document, and help access on computer and online accounts. All of these usages would require personal data to be protected, and while there is consumer interest towards wearables, apprehension will remain because of this.

Security is imperative in fostering a change of consumer attitudes to technology in general, and wearables in particular. Apple Pay for instance, has a huge security emphasis. If we look specifically at the US who are still using swipe credit cards, a technology abandoned in Europe 10 years ago, Apple is profiling the robust security technology behind their solution on the iPhone 6 and the Apple watch, and actually positioning themselves as more secure than traditional card payments, which will help to grow customer adoption.

The high level of protection of personal data can be achieved thanks to a secure chip, known as the ’secure element‘, which has been included within the design of the device, something that’s been included in the Apple Watch. This chip acts as a tiny safe which is able to store confidential information (like a bank account number, a fingerprint, a password, a health record etc.) with the same technology that has been used for years in SIM cards and credit cards. Until we see security being outlined as the most important asset across all wearables then adoption will continue to suffer.

Convenience Is Key

In addition to security, wearable device makers also need to value convenience in their solutions. One recurring issue for instance is battery time and energy management; it is rather annoying for most of the devices to need a recharge every few hours. The paradox with this though is that the energy problem comes with our wish of more wireless connectivity. It would be ideal to have our wearable devices completely autonomous from our smartphones, directly using the cellular networks. Flexibility is also important regarding our choice of mobile operator, will all users want to buy watches from a mobile operator’s shop?

These requirements will necessitate a new generation of SIM cards, which will not only be smaller than the ones we know today, allowing for better integration within the device, but also capable of accommodating a dynamic way to deal with wireless network subscriptions. As the wearables market grows it will also become more diverse, but the trust that security brings, as well as a flexible connectivity, are imperative in ensuring that the market reaches its potential. Great steps have been made so far, but now it is time to make leaps.

Jean-Francois Rubon is the Director of Innovation & Strategy within Gemalto’s Telecom Business Unit. Jean-Francois is based in the Bay Area and responsible for establishing technology partnerships between Gemalto and innovation players in the mobile ecosystem. In his 10+ year career at Gemalto, Jean-Francois has held various positions in product management, innovation, R&D and standardisation within the Telecommunications team. Prior to Gemalto, Jean-Francois worked with several French telecommunication equipment companies, and lead the development of several mobile products, while contributing to ETSI and 3GPP work on GSM/3G air interface standardisation. Jean-Francois holds an MSc in Computer Science from the National Institute for Applied Sciences (INSA) in Rennes, France.