Wearable tech: for so much more than fitness trackers

With New Year’s resolutions in full swing, fitness tracker purchases have ballooned. According to Google Trends, searches for “fitness trackers” are at the highest they’ve been since January of last year.

I also own and religiously use my Fitbit to track my steps, food, activity levels and even my sleep. But I recently learned from an Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) Atlanta chapter virtual event, that the tech used for my Fitbit is used for so much more than simply tracking steps.

Kenneth Boyle, Partner and Chief Technology Resource for Square1 Flex, lead the discussion on wearables and the present and future state of the technology. Ken has been affiliated with payments technology for 10 years until his career morphed into building different technologies for real-world applications and devices like wearables. He also spent a few years in Army Intelligence, so this guy is the real deal.

When I found out I was going to attend this event, I was thinking, how can we possibly talk about fitness trackers for an entire hour? But boy, was I wrong.

“Wearables” can have other applications than just Apple watches and Fitbits. The tech has become so advanced that there are almost endless possibilities for its use. And that was the main topic discussed during this event. Here are some of the highlights.

What is a wearable?

Ken set the record straight right away by defining what qualifies as a wearable device. Basically, it’s anything that you can carry or have on you that can have chip technology in it. He’s actually seen the chips put into jerseys (for what purpose, I’m not sure).

There are two main types:

  1. Passive devices that don’t require a battery and are entirely powered by say a POS machine to pay with it, tapping to get into a bar, tracking your ride schedule at Disney (with their magic band) – the list goes on and on.
  2. Active devices, which are like Fitbits or smartwatches require a battery.

And there’s an entire system designed to sustain these wearables and make them attractive for consumers to buy them. It’s not just the chip, it’s more complex with the number of apps involved to use these devices, companies branding their own wearables, add-ons, payment options, etc.

What’s driving the huge growth?

The big draw for many people is convenience. It minimizes the number of items you have to carry around, such as credit cards or even a wallet. Wearables and their technology have become commonplace for younger generations. They’re used to paying for things with their phone. As their desire to pay for more things with their phone grows, so does the wearable tech popularity.

Another reason for the growth of the wearable is because the technology keeps getting better and better. And the large amount of information you can put on a smaller chip, the easier it is to use. On top of that, the technology can do more than it used to and that has led to better adoption of the wearables.

The many possible use cases

Wearables can be used in many different aspects of our everyday life to enhance it, prioritize convenience and even keep us safe, in some instances. Here is a list of some – but by no means all – use cases that are current or can be put into place in the future:

  1. Making payments – Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc. enables you to pay for your purchases through your wearable. This is probably the most popular use of wearable technology right now. You can even load a wearable with funds to help teach your kids to be fiscally responsible. You control the “purse” and your child learns to budget.
  2. Restaurants – Contactless payment where the POS is brought to your table has increased since COVID began. But we’re still behind the rest of the world when it comes to this transition. The benefits can be huge when you’re talking about removing the possibilities for fraud. As soon as the credit card leaves the table, the onus is on the restaurant if fraudulent charges appear on that card holder’s statement. The reverse keeps the card at the table, free from fraud and the restaurant free from liability.
  3. Biometrics – With fitness trackers, many of them also track heart rate and can even take an EKG. What else could be taken from a wearable to monitor your health?
  4. Admittance – Places like Disney and Universal are already using wearable technology for things like ride reminders, payment methods, etc. They’re also being used instead of key cards on cruise ships or at hotels. It could also be used for admittance to bars, waterparks, daycares, sporting events, concerts and more. The availability and affordability can be barriers to using wearable tech in some scenarios, though.
  5. Security – Office buildings could use a wearable for in and out privileges (and tracking the access) instead of a key card, which most of us use today. But we all know, the key card isn’t tracking that person that piggybacks your entrance, so it’s less secure. Chipped accessibility will track each and every person that enters.
  6. Healthcare – The medical implications of wearables is huge and will continue to out-track the growth of medical science itself, according to Ken. One very cool way it’s already being used is to track healing after surgeries like knee replacement through data feeds to a private medical health record. This makes it easier and more efficient to care for the patient during follow-up. However, many other healthcare uses have hurdles to overcome to be viable such as obtaining various certifications and testing to make sure it’s safe.
  7. Military – Now, this one, Ken couldn’t tell us much about because it’s top secret. But the military is already leveraging advanced technology that exists today such as holographs, virtual keyboards, implants to track soldier performance/movements and others. The real possibilities come when the technology can be used to its full potential, said Ken.
  8. Tracking supervised parole – This is one that could be used right here in Georgia. With a wearable system, the government could track parolees and their activity and transfer records, conduct check-ins, etc. through a secure mobile application.

And now for some not-so-good news

The main challenge to implementing wearable technology is data privacy and security. People’s trust in how their data is used is a big concern. The companies collecting your data must, by law, keep data secure and adhere to privacy rules and regulations already in place. The transfer of data is typically done over a secure channel and payments are mostly made through cloud pay, which is very secure, according to Ken.

But when it comes to the privacy side, how many of us really read the privacy policy on an app or website before we check the accept button? I’m probably not alone in saying that I don’t always. But, I might be alone in saying that I enjoy how this data collection makes my life easier. Is it a little Big Brother? Yes, but I’m aware it’s happening and, in most cases, welcome it.

With my phone location on, my device can almost predict what I need and when I need it. For example, if I get a coupon for my favorite lunch place when I’m a block away from it, I know why. Or if at 8 am, my Starbucks app notifies me of a BOGO that afternoon, I’ll wait to do my daily coffee run. Both events, in my opinion, enhance my life by saving me money.

However, not everyone feels the same way I do. They feel the tracking is infringing on their privacy too much, especially when it comes to healthcare. There are definitely some HIPPA concerns if your health data is collected and stored. An extreme example would be if everyone had a tracking chip implanted, which Ken said reminds him of Minority Report (and we all had a good laugh at that). But again, that’s the polar opposite of sending me coupons for things I’m going to buy anyway.

In summary

Whether you think it’s too Big Brother or you like the improvements to your lifestyle, there’s one thing you can’t argue: wearable technology is a fascinating subject that has many possibilities. And we’re all just along for the ride to see what the tech geniuses think up next for it.


About the author

Brooke Hathaway serves as Marketing Manager for Synergis and has 17+ years of experience in marketing. In this role, she is responsible for content creation, marketing automation, social media, public relations, website content and event management. Brooke earned a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University in journalism. In her spare time, she enjoys running, listening to true crime podcasts, watching her kids play sports and spending time with family.

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