Chasing the Killer App for Wearables

The new generation of heart rate (HR) wearables pushed the fitness tech sector closer to a medical grade enterprise. But for the average person, without personalized physician interpretation and directives, the data is almost meaningless. This presents a huge opportunity for what I believe is the near mythical killer app for wearables. 

It's true that bio-sensors in many of the lower-end wearable devices are sub-par. But if you're willing to spend the $200+ on a Fitbit, Garmin, or Apple Watch, you are acquiring a much higher fidelity picture of overall health than the standard Steps-based analytics.

In fact, there's a pretty common argument (led by the American Heart Association) against the value of a Steps-only fitness metric given that walking is not strenuous. More critically, overall heart health and the prevention of heart disease really depends on the measure of Intensity during exercise, which means habitually pushing your heart rate up to physician-prescribed thresholds for your age, gender, and body type.

And this is where it gets complicated.

It's one thing to watch your steps climb toward the 10K milestone as a metric of performance.  It's way harder to track a recommended HR level, and duration, in order to meet personalized optimal health thresholds

Transmitting the meaningfulness of heart data is a challenge that has been taken up by Dr. Bruce Johnson and his lab team at Mayo Clinic. With over a decade of research in wearables, and a legacy of field work focused on studying the limits of human heart and lung performance, Dr. Johnson has a passion for technology that can meaningfully communicate a person's moment-to-moment fitness in an actionable way.

Here's where the much-maligned Apple Watch actually takes a step above the rest of the wearables field. 

Mayo Clinic is one of many top tier US hospitals that has been trialing the Apple Health Kit (HK) platform that integrates healthcare and fitness apps, allowing them to synchronize via iOS devices and collate their data.  Coupling HK with the Apple Watch's (not-perfect-but) highly rated heart rate sensors, and the paired screen of the iPhone, there was suddenly the opportunity to envision a generative health identity which could show the user exactly where they were in relation to their Mayo-prescribed intensity thresholds, both daily and cumulatively.

Last year, I wrote on LinkedIn about our company's (ORA) vision that in the future, complex and big data flows would signal in dimensional objects (think clouds, or flowers which are essentially produced by complex data inputs). At that time, we were just releasing the beta SDK of our HALO technology. You can see that now-evolved SDK, here.

About 6 months later, we began working with Dr. Johnson and his team to build the first dynamically responsive health identity, called the Health HALO.  And this week we are launching a closed beta test of the software. Below is the onboarding video guide that shows the HALOs and explains how they work:

If you've skipped the video, the short description is: ORA and the Mayo Clinic have developed a digital system that allows users to track their daily progress towards optimal heart health by deploying Mayo's proprietary algorithms and embedding them in the Health HALO. The user's cumulative performance is then tabulated for classification in a four Tier national ranking system of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Elite, also programmed by Mayo Clinic. (You can see the performance criteria for the HALO colors and Tiers, here.)

I'm not just the CEO of ORA, I'm also the lead product tester.  And I can say without any exaggeration that this system has totally transformed my approach to fitness and personal health. Where I used to lift weights or hit the stationary bike and hope that I got enough cardio to be considered "healthy", now I engage the HALO app and actively watch it grow with my energy and oxygen, literally, until it blooms into the color-filled HALO that I aspire to. I rarely go to sleep without building a HALO that at least hits what's called a 'rose' level performance:



This is the blazing sun I earn after going for a run or crushing the elliptical at the gym:


Our plan after responding to the beta results is to roll out a device agnostic consumer app as well as licensing to wellness platforms.  We also believe there is a huge opportunity here to engage payors who might use this technology to reward responsible behavior. The combination of a bio-dynamic personal health identity that can be pegged to insurance rates, and possibly rebates, is the closest thing to a killer app for wearables I've seen.

But of course I would say that. I'd love to hear what some of you think.