Tue Jan 19 2010

The oncoming era of cloud-connected health products and services

I’ve been reading quite a lot more in recent times in hopes to get back to my old self (lots of reading, lots of writing, lots of ideas) - and I’ve noticed that people are talking more and more about health and health related startups. There’s a huge number of those popping up, too. I’ve always been interested in the ways I could improve both my health and mental performance (I still read more about neuroscience than I do about design, business, or development), so all of this interests me at both a personal and intelectual level.

I’ve been following startups like Fitbits (in which my friend Jeff Clavier invested), Wakemate, Withings or Dailyburn - and smaller efforts like Sleep Cycle. It’s an interesting time to be an entrepreneur, designer, developer and gadget fan, in light of these advances in what I call cloud-connected health services. I’ll cover each of these personas separately:

  1. Entrepreneurs : We have (as a species) created the technology and means to log personal health data. We have the capability to analyze our bodies, and we carry gadgets that can do it for us. While most of us haven’t been physically (and in a major way) altered by technology, our brains have been rewired to rely on it - and I believe that our health too will be affected by the inventions and innovations the current generation of entrepreneurs will bring to the table. While 23andme sounded like an odd and novel idea to many when it first launched, it seems much more obvious now.

  2. Designers : Keep in mind I’m talking about design in the broad sense of the term. This is a fantastic, inspiring time to be a designer. We’re on the verge of creating gadgets people will carry around with them all the time. How can design thinking impact the products and services we’re creating? What can experience design, industrial design and service design bring to the table? How can design impact health in this new era of health in the cloud?

  3. Developers : Data is everywhere. Health data is starting to emerge. New scales that twit your weight every day? Innovative ways to track sleep patterns? What kind of assertions and conclusions can developers formulate upon investigating this new emerging world of data? What kind of novel applications will they be able to bring to market? The role of the developer - and particularly of the data-aware developer - is not to be taken lightly. Beauty lies in the simplicity (and complexity) of numbers, and there’s a whole new set of numbers to explore, once people start plugging more of themselves to the internet and pushing their health data to the cloud.

  4. The gadget fans : the tech inclined individuals, the guys who line up for the iPhones, the people who try out the new products, the people who bought the Nike+ and ran with it just for the kick of competing or the thrill of having a new gadget to fiddle with; These are the people who will guide the vision and direction for all of these technological advances. These are the people who’ll wear the wristbands, upload the data, measure the runs, set-up the twitter-connected scale that tells everyone their weight and BMI. These people, and their needs, will guide everyone else’s, and pave the way to a new paradigm of could-connected health products and services.##A few concluding thoughts

Thse are exciting times and I’m quite happy I get to live them. The consumerisation of health is a reality, and while some would argue about the moral implications of everything I’ve described above, my opinion is that it will ultimately contribute to an evolved, self-aware species. There’s real, actual hope in the possibility of real-time alerts for an oncoming heart problem, getting recommendations on how to maximize sleep to achieve optimal day-time performance, or being able to track weight progress in a safe and effective way. I hope you’re as excited about all of this as I am - and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Also, if you’re involved with any of the startups I’ve referenced in this post (or others tackling the same problems), please do get in touch, I’d love to pick your brains for a bit. I can be emailed at fred@helloform.com and I’m on twitter at @f (no typo, just one character).