The charm of a tiny computer is immediate – but, often, fleeting. Wearables are neat, but they can be a letdown when they can’t do everything you wish they could, or when they give you reports that don’t make you happy. It turns out those Snap Spectacles feel kind of silly after a while. And, unfortunately, even the coolest fitness wearable doesn’t magically make it easier to work out or eat healthy. So: will wearables ever truly become integrated into our lives?

More Seamless, More Capable
Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan recently wrote, “For 2017 to be a healthy year for wearables, the companies making them will have to change the minds of lots of people… And marketing messages might not be enough. The device makers will have to create products that, packed with indispensable new features and functions, make the point themselves.”

The wearables market seems to have gotten this message, and its products are evolving in form and function to become more seamless and more capable. Here’s who they’re aiming for:

  • Health-conscious: Wearables often target fitness enthusiasts – people who seek to optimize their health by better understanding it. But as wearables increase in capabilities, we’ll see more aimed at people who have a specific health need.

One real-world scenario is, of course, pregnancy and child rearing. YONO combines an earpiece with an app to measure a woman’s nightly body temperature and other data points to predict times of fertility. Once the baby is born, most new parents are hyper-focused on monitoring them. A wide variety of wearables – worn by the baby, the parent, or both – measure baby’s vitals and transmit their sounds and movements.

  • Employers: Wearables can monitor the awareness and responsivity of workers, from truck drivers to surgeons. If we extend the concept of wearables to full suits, we can extend the capabilities of military personnel in suits and exoskeletons. And, of course, employers and insurers continue to explore the potential for wearables to lower healthcare costs.
  • Hobbyists: The utility of wearables for fitness enthusiasts is clear, from runners to golfers to martial artists. But what about gloves for motorcyclists that let them take a picture by tapping two fingers together? And wearables for music buffs can act like personal subwoofers to bring the bass vibrations of your music. Wearable makers are clearly looking to the world outside the gym to help consumers enjoy life.

Dick Tracy – the comic-book cop with the first-ever smartwatch – may still be the image that comes to mind when we think of wearables, but today, the boundaries are expanding. Wearables now have cousins of sorts: from jewelry to pajamas to devices like Nest and Alexa to “hearable” earbuds that can translate languages.

As the “smart” adjective is applied more and more to homes, watches and clothes, it’ll drop off. “Smart” will become the new normal in a world of ambient computing. But it’s only when these devices become truly “smart” – when they provide a worthwhile service that’s simple and affordable – that we’ll finally see them become part of our lives.

Where Does Pharma Fit?
Will pharma be part of this? We hope so. Certainly, many partnerships have tried to test the waters: AbbVie with Calico; Biogen and Novartis with Google; Novartis and Roche with QualComm; and many others. One thing is certain: understanding the patient and their care team will be invaluable when creating useful consumer wearables. And in the R&D realm, wearables may take clinical trials out into the real world in all new ways.

We said this in 2015, and it remains true today: “The future of healthcare is in prevention. Wearables and apps are already helping people lead healthier lives by giving them more information about their day-to-day health, which allows them to make better choices overall.

Pharma is particularly well-placed to play a key role in this future. Pharma knows diseases and patients; it knows the regulations and how to work within them. If pharma doesn’t step in, someone else will.”