…the iWatch’s innovative user experience will address the problem of “how to motivate the 90%”

At the Body Computing Conference in Fall 2013, the panel of experts on wearable sensors debated the question that has followed the wearable sensor movement from the beginning: how do you motivate the 90% of users who don’t generally prioritize their health to buy into health/wellness technology.  80% of health app users abandon the apps within 2 weeks.

Solidifying emerging markets and technological trends is Apple’s strength.  Apple’s secret sauce has always been their user experience and the motto it just works. Unlike Samsung’s recent announcement of the Galaxy S5 and Gear Fit touting the hardware features, multiple models, and various sensors at product launch with limited video of their apps in use, Apple will spend a majority of their keynote bringing up various software partners and models to perform live demonstrations of the iWatch’s features.

The activity tracker market has been stuck in a self-described “phase one.”  Despite the addition of features such as continuous wireless syncing and additional sensors, users find their activity trackers becoming less engaging after a few weeks or months.  The data becomes repetitive and tedious once the initial wonder wears off.  In my opinion, Jawbone has been most effective at pushing the market by encouraging users to look beyond the data by fostering more meaningful interaction with their UP app by providing user insights, trends, and harnessing crowdsourced data.

Similarly, I anticipate the Apple iWatch will create a new form of interacting with the data, one that promises more meaningful and long-term engagement with its users.  Rather than throwing every measurable biometric parameter onto a dashboard and seeing what sticks, Apple will isolate on specifically chosen parameters (likely motion and sleep) to detect trends and make recommendations.  While limited and perhaps over-simplified at first, this will ease the transition for the 90% who would not otherwise focus on their wellness and might become easily overwhelmed.   As battery life improves and advanced sensors become more available, they will be introduced in later product releases.

The greatest innovation of the iWatch will be what comes next

Consider how dramatically the smartphone has changed the way we live.  Driving directions, deciding which restaurant to visit, reading the news, looking up medication doses… These daily interactions are radically different than they were before the popularization of the smartphone.  While Apple or Google might not have directly created Yelp or Medscape, they did create the ecosystem ripe for other developers’ imaginations.

Smartwatch ecosystems already exist in the Samsung Gear and Pebble smartwatch, but an Apple iWatch platform would have the critical mass of users to hasten health app innovation to a breakneck pace. When the iPad and tablets first came out, developers rushed to take advantage of the new form factor’s strengths, leading to brand new app experiences (ie interactive ebooks, video-heavy content) not seen before on the iPhone, even though they were running the same operating system.  Similarly, the new iWatch form factor will spark a new renaissance of developers to create experiences that we can’t even imagine now, many pertaining to mobile health.

As chronic conditions like morbid obesity and diabetes grow more prevalent, medical providers eagerly await Apple’s iWatch to create new experiences to help enact lifestyle change in ourselves and our patients.