To quote the Pew 2013 Research Center Report on Cell Phone Activities, ” 50% of cell owners download apps to their phones, 48% listen to music services; video calling has tripled since 2011; texting remains a popular activity,” I’m going to rub my crystal ball for a moment and say that in the not too distant future that list is going to include the phrase “use their phone to track their health in real time and get feedback on their health and wellbeing goals.” This may not come as a shock to many. The Fitbit has been on the market for a few years. That one simple device has started people thinking of ways to continuously track their activity but what about the rest of their lives? Health is more than just how much activity you got, or how much you tossed and turned while you slept.
“Quantified selfers” having been working on answering that complex question. This small community meticulously tracks every variable in their daily lives to come to some very remarkable conclusions about themselves. For example this gentlemen parsed out his stressors using an app called TapLog to determine why he never fought with his spouse on Wednesdays. So I’ll admit, I don’t actually have a crystal ball. My prediction is actually based on something Jaspal Sandhu said during an Innovations course. To paraphrase, if you want to know the future of a design product, look at the extremes, the so called “super users.” The quantified selfers at the moment are super users. They are using methods that are completely disjointed, meeting in small groups to share their hacks and tactics, as well as showing each other what they’ve learned. They’ve been using technology that was never intended to track health at the granularity the selfers want and thus have been doing a lot of this collection manually and painstakingly combining it with their own research to reach conclusions. Small developers have already started to catch on to this. Products like The Dash, a set of headphones that measures your heart rate and SpO2; Vessyl, a cup that tells you (for a reason that I’m still not entirely clear) what you’re drinking, as well as many other developers have geared up to make it easier for you keep track of you. Much of this type of technology was until recently only within reach of medical professionals and high level athletes (well maybe not the cup thing). It’s not difficult to imagine a future where all of your daily devices, your fork, your watch, even your toilet (couldn’t find anyone working on this one, but the selfers seem to LOVE measuring their, ahem… outputs, see my earlier post in the Poo Taboo) are collecting data and sending it to your phone to track every intimate detail of your biological and psychological well being. However, what has prevented wider use up until this point is a unifying application that can bring all of this disparate data together for the mobile user who doesn’t want to spend the time or have the expertise to compile and interpret the data.
That is likely to change in the Fall of this year. The heavy hitters have started to take notice of the trend towards self quantification and have thrown their hats into the quantified selfers’ ring. Rumors abound about the number of health tracking sensors that the fabled iWatch will contain, and Apple and Google have each announced their own versions of health and fitness tracking software HealthKit and Fit, respectively. Unlike other software to date the entire purpose of these apps is to coalesce a person’s health and fitness data from multiple apps and devices into one place where it can be used to create a more well rounded picture of the user’s health and wellbeing. The twin juggernauts of iOS and Android have the potential to unite the individual triumphs of the smaller developers and bring the quantified self into the mainstream.
This type of integration and main stream use could open the door for highly targeted three way communication between a person, their phone, and their doctor that has been impossible up until this point but that could drastically improve health. Things like knowing a person’s true baseline, correlations between daily variations in emotional state, activity levels, medication compliance, and evolution of disease could be tracked by the user’s phone with minimal input from the user. What’s more, with a little software wizardry a phone could easily prompt the user for more qualitative information, give them reminders based on their biometric data, or even contact their physicians when things look like they’re starting to go awry. Of course with any automation there is the possibility of gaming the system. For example your phone asking, “Have you taken your medication today?” is only useful if answered honestly. So, as we move into this new era of health and fitness tracking my advice to you is, to thy own phone be true.