A (Possible) Killer Wearable App

Just because a device has more features doesn’t mean it provides more value.


Wearable products (and proposals) today seem to be primarily fads or curiosities vying for the attention of a select few — the digital elite (computer-literate, with multiple devices, and data junkies). Many of us find it hard to see these apps lasting very long. I have an idea that breaks a lot of the expectations of a wearable, but may deliver higher value. I apologize in advance for credit not given to existing products with one or more of these features; the value I propose is in integrating multiple features into one device, in support of one very specific and common need.

Let me introduce you to the DietBand. Its primary purpose is to help you lose weight. Unfortunately it is, at least as far as I know, imaginary. DietBand is a wristband with four shaped lights — a heart shape, a triangle, an irregular blob shape and a running stick figure. Any one of these lights will shine red if the associated monitor moves beyond a “set point” and will flash red if the monitor moves beyond a second set-point. The band also will vibrate for 10 seconds if any of these factors changes. The band monitors blood pressure (the heart), blood sugar (the triangle), cholesterol (the blob) and exercise (the stick figure). That’s it. There are no sophisticated data displays. It doesn’t connect (much) to your smart phone, and you can’t upload trend charts to review on the Web. In fact, the only interaction it supports is programming “set points” from an app on your phone or at your doctor’s office.

This seems to defy the concept of a wearable, but hear me out. Feedback is intentionally, Pavlovian. I want to be notified that the bowl of ice cream spiked my blood sugar as soon as my body figures it out, not at the end of the day, or when I remember to look at an app on my phone. Just as Pavlov found, we respond best to (near) real-time feedback and to simple signals. I feel the band shake, see the triangle light flash, and I immediately know I shouldn’t have eaten that bowl of ice cream. Or maybe I’ll let myself enjoy having had the treat this time, but I had better compensate somewhere else. Additionally, I don’t depend on complex infrastructure to get the message; I don’t need a wireless plan, or need to be near a hotspot, and I don’t have to check out a website or an app (when or if I get around to it) to figure out that I crossed a line. Oh, and not seeing all the trending data will avoid the discouragement when it plateaus or moves in the wrong direction.

Consider the marketability of the DietBand. It would have near universal appeal – not as a nice-to-have but as an absolute must-have. I’d bet insurance companies would be happy to underwrite DietBands in expectation of reducing overall health-care costs. The product can be used by anyone. It doesn’t require digital literacy or complex infrastructure — you don’t need a computer, a smart phone or wireless access. You just need to recharge periodically. And it has sustainable value. Even if I fall off the wagon for a while, I’m never going to stop worrying about my weight. I can pick up again with no difficulty whenever I choose. I just have to make sure the band is re-charged.

Is this product possible? I don’t see why not, given some investment and research. Fitness bands are already in production so the fitness light is covered. In fact, we would want to dumb down and de-feature existing functionality because we don’t need most of that capability. Blood pressure cuffs (placed on the wrist) are already available in retail outlets. Blood sugar monitoring looks a little trickier because it typically requires drawing a drop of blood, which doesn’t fit well with a wearable device. I have seen one solution that uses a clip on an earlobe. We just need to figure out how to move that sensor to the wrist (or near the wrist). Similarly, I know of at least one product that can non-invasively measure cholesterol in the skin.

This story has two points. First, I think this would be a pretty awesome and eminently feasible product. It easily could be as big as smart phones, but it also has significant societal value in improved general health and reduced health-care costs. Second, there is a moral for would-be designers of wearable products, a “Design 101” we seem to forget every time we get excited about a new market. First, find a real problem with very wide reach (not one just for people like us), and then design your solution to optimally address that problem. Don’t get confused into thinking the value is in all the features you see in every other wearable/IoT solution. Even if the end product hardly seems to fit the market you think you are in, if it’s a good product it will sell, and no one will care what segment it falls under.

  • Amsurf

    Great idea and i definitely like the idea that there is no trend data available for monitoring by some medical, government or insurance entity!