Wrist Wars: Big Tech, Wearables, and Healthcare

Big tech is battling for your wrist.

  • Industry veteran Apple Watch owned 1/3 of the global market in Q1.
  • Amazon’s fitness wearable, the Halo Band, leverages machine learning technology that outperforms lab devices.
  • Google acquired Fitbit for $2.1B in early 2021. To date, its smartwatch efforts have floundered due to gaps in hardware.
  • Facebook will debut its first smartwatch in summer 2022, reportedly featuring detachable cameras and a heart rate monitor.

Why the boom? Smartwatches minimize phone distractions without compromising connection. As more users opt to put down their phones, the smartwatch market has flourished — and the rest of tech wants Apple’s pie.

In 2019, Apple Watches outsold the entire Swiss watch industry. And last year, the global smartwatch market grew 20% despite pandemic retail closures.

The bigger fish… is a piece of the $11.9T global healthcare market. Big tech is racing to cash in on an industry ripe for disruption following COVID-19.

Wearables are a linchpin of their entry into health:

  • Amazon is poised to offer valuable integrations for Halo, including its medical record software and online pharmacy PillPack, fueling rumors of Prime Health. 
  • Apple Watch leverages a suite of proactive/preventative health tools like high heart rate alerts and fall detection.
  • Wearables Oura Ring and WHOOP have tipped users off to COVID-19 infections before symptoms fully manifested.

Privacy problems. Big Tech’s collection of sensitive health data rings alarms. Amazon’s Halo has raised eyebrows for monitoring users’ tone of voice, while Google faced investigations regarding consumer data usage following its acquisition of Fitbit.

And while Apple has positioned itself in the public eye as a “privacy protector,” Facebook’s history of data scandals may impede its move into the smartwatch/healthcare scene.

Meanwhile, other players are hoping to gain your trust:

  • WHOOP claims it exists to “improve your life, not invade it.”
  • Garmin’s GPS smartwatches hold up to security scrutiny by independent testers.

Next up. EVERING and Oura are jostling for your finger while Apple, Snap and Facebook make inroads into wearable eye tech.

Takeaway: Odds are in Apple’s favor in the wearables world, but it’s anyone’s game. Ultimately, the winner may be whoever can get hardware right, mitigate privacy concerns, and construct a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem first.