We’ve expressed in the past that accurate and reliable early-stage disease detection combined with non-invasive sample collection is the holy grail of molecular diagnostics. Previously, we discussed the growing popularity of non-invasive saliva-based diagnostics in the context of this theme (see the insight “Digital IVD sample of the future: Saliva” [client registration required]). While less mature, sweat based tests, too, present a compelling avenue for non-invasive sensing in medical, enterprise, and consumer applications. To gauge the state of innovation in sweat sensing, we surveyed the evolving landscape of sweat sensors patents. In total, we identified 1,009 patents for the search terms “sweat sensor” and “perspiration sensor” published in the past decade. As evident by Figure 1 below, sweat sensing technologies have seen consistent increase in patents applications. 2016 saw most activity, with a total of 194 patent grants and applications.
While the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S smartwatches may function and even appear similar, these are just first attempts at the wearables market. To understand their future strategic direction, we’ve examined the wearable patents of Apple and Samsung since 2010 and analyzed their overall portfolios in three major taxonomy families: applications, form factors, and components (client registration required). Apple and Samsung’s patents cover nearly identical form factors and components, but they diverge when it comes to applications. Samsung is more health-focused, while Apple is focused more on consumer communication. As illustrated in Figure 1, 28% of Samsung’s and 10% of Apple’s patents are for medical devices or health monitoring, while 10% of Samsung’s and 43% of Apple’s patents are relevant to consumer communication like entertainment, gaming, and notification.
Samsung and Apple have dominated the smartphone market for years; however, in the wearable space, the two companies will fight on different battlegrounds. The smartphone competition between Samsung and Apple has been especially intense as the two battle for top market share. However, wearables are shaping up to be a very different competitive landscape, as the two giants focus on different applications. Samsung, with 12% of the whole wearable medical device patent pool (see Figure 2), will find itself primarily competing in wearable health monitoring devices with other innovative medical wearable companies like Zoll Medical and Asante, or wearable component companies like Qualcomm that are still determining how much of the device they should develop themselves. On the other hand, by focusing on consumer communication, Apple will compete with the usual host of competitors from the mobile space: Nokia, Sony, Microsoft, Motorola, and LG are all among the top 10 IP holders for wearable devices designed for consumer communication, not to mention that Qualcomm has actually filed the most consumer communication device patents (see Figure 2).
The roots for this apparent divergence between Samsung and Apple can at least partially be found in the origins of these two companies. While Apple has stayed true to its consumer electronics roots from inception, Samsung has grown from a trading company into a global conglomerate with business units as diverse as health care, financial services, and heavy industries. Therefore, expect wearables to inherently be a more fragmented market than other consumer electronics. Clients should be prepared to develop a broader range of products and channels to market, and perhaps a more diversified technology portfolio, as well.
Lux Research recently participated in the mHealth Summit 2014 – the largest mHealth conference in the world this year. Mingling with several thousand attendees coming from all corners of the world and representing industries as diverse as healthcare, consumer electronics, telecommunications, and athletic apparel provided us with a chance to understand the direction the industry is taking as it approaches a point of mass adoption.
The main stage, featuring power players such as Qualcomm’s President Derek Aberle, Pfizer’s Vice President of Worldwide Innovation Wendy Mayer, Samsung’s Chief Medical Officer & VP of Global Healthcare David Rhew, Kaiser Permanente’s Senior Vice President of Marketing & Internet Services Christine Paige, IBM’s Director of Health Industry Transformation Harry Reynolds, and Walgreens’ Chief Medical Officer & Group Vice President Harry Leider, among others, offered a diverse view on the industry trends from the points of view of some of the largest organizations actively working in the mHealth space. Although the approaches to the topic at hand differed widely depending on the speaker’s backgrounds and current affiliations, a common topic covered by all of them was the question: “What can industry do to enable mass adoption, especially in the consumer market?”
One of the key messages – shared by most of the speakers and attendees – was the importance of simplifying the use of consumer mHealth devices to the point of seamless integration into everyday life. A key feature for future devices will be to enable measurements, data collection and information dissemination that will require no (or minimal) user action. The argument continued that every time an additional step requiring user’s input is introduced, the chance that the user will abandon the device grows significantly.
Multiple examples supporting this view were presented for both, pure consumer devices and for clinical devices intended for home use by patients, alike. Qualcomm’s Derek Aberle shared several findings from a study that looked into the reasons why 2/3 of activity trackers’ users abandon their devices within a couple of months of purchasing them. The numbers showed that most of them got tired of having to remember to regularly interact with their gadgets – interactions such as turning the device on/off, initiating data transfers, charging the batteries on a daily bases, etc. When asked what would have encouraged them to continue using their trackers, more than 80% of respondents indicated that having a device that they would turn on and forget about for weeks, if not months, on end would drastically change their view of the device’s utility.
Joseph Kvedar, Director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners Healthcare, talked about the market adoption challenges from the “engagement gap” perspective. He shared data from a pilot program Partners Healthcare ran in 2011, where the patients suffering from hypertension were given blood pressure monitors connected with the centralized database. They were instructed to upload their measurements daily. Final results showed that the long-term participation was significantly higher (more than 30%) in the control group whose devices automatically uploaded the measurements than in the group of patients whose devices required a single press on the button to transmit the data.
Looking at the experiences from other industries, such as consumer electronics and telecommunications, that rely on a mass adoption by consumers to provide a sizeable ROI, these findings do not represent a surprise. Consumer preferences need to be well understood to maximize the chance of success, and the ease of use and seamless integration into a person’s lifestyle are on the top of the list. Somewhat surprisingly, this seems to be the case even for people whose health may depend on regularly using their monitors – as in the case of diabetics and patients with hypertension. While their #1 priority is the ability of the device to accurately measure the biomarker of interest, having this done in as unobtrusive fashion as possible still ranks high on their wish lists.
Clients interested in the mHealth and broader point-of-care spaces, should pay a close attention to the way their devices will be used and perceived by the end users. The importance of the esthetics and ergonomics is increasing. Adding the industrial design expertise to the design teams seems like a logical step, especially if the final product is intended to be used on a continuous basis in home or office settings.