2015: The year wearables finally become wearable, and data more meaningful

Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

Between more style-friendly wearables and Apple’s effort to integrate personal tracking data with HealthKit, we’ll see a new surge in consumer wearables and personal tracking data in 2015.

In its first year out, the Apple Watch might only be a luxury gadget for early adopters, but careful attention to personal style preferences marks a notable shift in the design of wearables. Withing’s Activité tracker pushes wearable design even further into the classic watch aesthetic to hide tracking outputs to the smartphone interface. And products like Ringly, a connected cocktail ring, hide helpful alerts in a relatively stylish accessory. Wearables have finally become accessories we actually might want to wear.

Even among early adopters, many people drop regular use of wearables once the novelty has worn off. Others stop tracking once the habit they meant to encourage is established and the data collected no longer offers day-to-day insights—once you know what a 10,000 step day feels like you don’t need a wristband to confirm it. But the biggest limitation for wearables thus far has been their long-term value in providing insights into more complex, interactive patterns of behavior because their data exists in proprietary silos.

iOS’s HealthKit promises to connect all the data streams about our body together in one place, addressing this gap in making personal data meaningful. The success of HealthKit will lie in its ability to make this data meaningful and actionable. Even Fitbit does not yet offer insights into how my steps affect my sleep, even though they are tracked with the same device. HealthKit launched with iOS 8 in 2014 with very few integrations, but we will likely see much more activity in 2015.

As HealthKit and other services emerge to integrate data about our bodies, consumers and healthcare professionals will need to become savvy about making sense of this aggregate data. Greater integration will raise our expectations and requirements for trusting data intermediaries for handling our data. Apple’s recent statements about privacy and data usage have set the principles for responsible data stewardship, but events like the iCloud hack should still give us pause.

Sara M. Watson is a Technology Critic and Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.