CES 2019 Wearables Roundup: Healthcare Features Take Center Stage

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1Q 2019 | IN-5375

At CES 2019, wearable device vendors showcased their latest products, which offer a greater number of features than the original smartwatches and fitness trackers, allowing them to also be used as medical devices. Obstacles to deploying these devices will include obtaining medical clearance, ensuring adequate battery life, and cost considerations, among others.

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Major CES Wearable Trend


The major wearable device trend at CES centered on those that offer healthcare-related features, including remote monitoring features, healthcare tracking, emergency response functionality, and more. These types of wearables allow consumers to keep an eye on their own health metrics, with some devices also capable of sending vital information to medical professionals via Wi-Fi, enabling them to monitor a patient’s health and be alerted about any issues. It was to be expected at CES that a number of companies were going to follow the Apple with its Electrocardiogram (ECG) feature and emergency contact capabilities on the Apple Watch Series 4, offering wearable devices with a larger number of healthcare tracking capabilities.

Wearable Heathcare-Related CES Announcements


The major CES announcements in the healthcare-related wearables market included devices that have ECG, blood pressure monitoring, emergency contact functionality, sleep monitoring, and more. Some are designed to be used as medical devices in addition to their original device purpose (i.e., as fitness trackers and smartwatches), and come with Federal Drug Administration (FDA) or other medical approval, while others are designed to aid users in their day-to-day lives. An example of the former came from Omron Healthcare, which announced its HeartGuide wearable oscillometric blood pressure monitor smartwatch, which is now available in the United States for US$499 after receiving 510(k) FDA clearance, allowing it to be used as a medical device. The company also plans to roll out the device in Europe and Asia later in 2019, provided it gets clearance from the regional healthcare authorities.

Another example came from Withings, which announced that it is adding ECG and blood pressure monitoring to its smartwatch. The Withings Move ECG would be able to detect serious heart conditions. This device currently does not have FDA clearance in the United States or Conformité Européene (CE) clearance in the United Kingdom, although it is under review, and the company hopes to release the device in 2Q 2019 for US$130. Motiv is also looking to add ECG functionality to its smart ring, but not for medical purposes. It initially plans to use the technology instead for biometric security features, allowing it to identify a user based on their ECG readings, although, in the future, Motiv aims to use the technology to provide medical-grade heart rate readings. The company plans to release the device in 2H 2019.

Several wearable vendors have added Long-Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity options to their devices, allowing them to be used as personal safety devices, sending messages to emergency contacts after an incident. For example, Garmin announced at the show that it is adding LTE connectivity to its Vivoactive 3 Music smartwatch, with incident and assistance detection, allowing it to send a message to emergency contacts when required. The device is expected to be released in 1Q 2019. Coolpad also announced its new 4G LTE smartwatch for kids, which features an SOS button that allows them to call their emergency contacts if needed. The device will become available toward the end of January 2019 for US$149. App-Elles is a company that aims to reduce and end physical abuse and violence. It also announced a mobile application (for iOS and Android) and wearable bracelet that allow the user to discretely report a dangerous situation with emergency contacts and authorities.

A number of other companies made announcements in the wearable market, offering devices with healthcare-based features, including:

  • Aura announced that it is releasing an add-on band for the Apple Watch called the Smart Strap, which uses bioimpedance to track body composition, hydration, and atrial fibrillation, allowing it to evaluate the risk of heart disease and heart failure. The band costs US$89 and will begin shipping in 2Q 2019.
  • Owlet announced its new wearable Owlet Band that is designed to be worn around the abdomen of a pregnant woman to track vitals, including the mother’s sleep position, the baby’s heart rate, the baby’s kick, and contractions. Audio of the baby’s heart rate can also be recorded and saved. The Owlet Band is available in the United Kingdom now for £269 (US$348).
  • Flint Rehab announced its MiGo wearable activity tracker for stroke survivors that tracks their upper extremity activity and provides motivational support to encourage the user to continue to move both sides of their body after a stroke. This helps reduce hemiparesis, which is impaired movement on one side of the body due to inactivity. The device is available now for US$149.
  • Philips announced that it is expanding its SmartSleep platform with a SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band that is worn around the chest and tracks sleep and movement, and vibrates to move the user to their front or side to prevent snoring. The company also announced a SmartSleep Better Sleep Program designed to help users get to sleep quickly and a SmartSleep Analyzer designed to identify sleep issues.
  • Vocera announced that it is launching a wearable for clinicians, which allows them to securely communicate with colleagues, integrating more than 140 clinical and operational systems, such as Electronic Health Records (EHRs), nurse call systems, and physiologic monitors.
  • L’Oreal announced that it is adding a pH tracking wearable to its lineup of healthcare-based devices. The stick-on patch device measures the wearer’s skin/sweat pH levels using microfluidic technology. The company will be rolling the patch out to La Roche-Posay dermatologists in the United States throughout 2019 to gather more research about skin pH, before making the device available for consumers.

The Future for Healthcare Wearables


It was made quite clear at CES that vendors of wearable products are pushing into the healthcare market, offering a greater number of features that allow them to also be used as medical devices, while still having the functionality of a typical wearable device. In many cases, these devices are smartwatches, which already offer standard smartwatch and activity tracking functions, but now have added healthcare features, such as ECG monitors, blood pressure tracking, and fall detection. Vendors are adding these features to their devices, as consumers are increasingly looking to get more from their wearables, and are becoming aware of the ability to continuously monitor various aspects of their health. Other companies are expected to offer more devices with healthcare tracking features. For example, Samsung has a patent for a wrist-based blood pressure tracking device that would be smaller and less obtrusive than traditional arm cuffs.

Smartwatches are often the device of choice for the addition of these healthcare features due to their popularity among consumers and their discreet form factor. Smartwatches (as well as other wearable devices) will continue to be developed with new added healthcare features, making them more and more suitable for medical purposes, as well as allowing doctors to continuously monitor their patients’ health, receiving alerts about any issues, with data being sent to the cloud via Wi-Fi. ABI Research expects smartwatch shipments to increase from fewer than 40 million shipments in 2018 to nearly 100 million in 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 20%. Smartwatches have commonly been used to provide the user with a convenient way in which to access smartphone notifications, and increasingly by individuals to track their general health and wellbeing. The continued addition of healthcare sensors and features are increasing both their functionality and desirability.

Wearable vendors looking to add these healthcare tracking features to their devices need to consider a number of aspects to ensure that the technology is successful. If the company wants the device to be classed as a medical wearable, it will require medical clearance, such as through the FDA in the United States and CE certification in Europe. This can be a lengthy process, often taking months or even years, with companies like Apple and its ECG feature currently having approval for use in the United States, but not in Europe. To obtain FDA clearance, Apple was required to provide data from a heart study involving patients with and without atrial fibrillation, where it was found to have 98% accuracy. Medical approval ensures that inaccurate readings are kept to a minimum, allowing the devices to be used more readily for medical purposes.

When adding these healthcare features, vendors also need to consider how they will affect the user experience and overall device performance. Battery life is a particularly important aspect to consider, as adding these extra features may cause noticeable drain on the battery. Indeed, a long battery life should be a fundamental requirement to ensure that a device can adequately provision these added healthcare tracking features without fear of it dying at a potentially crucial moment. Other aspects will also be affected, notably the additional costs of adding the features and the final price of the device. If a device is deemed to be too expensive, that may limit its uptake, but this must be taken into consideration with the cost benefit it can provide to both the end user and the wider healthcare system.