Category Archives: News Breakdown

Difficulties in Making Wearables, Because Hardware is Hard

A number of reports on Nike restructuring their FuelBand division came out this past week. The fitness giant confirmed layoffs in its Digital Sports division and as CNET reported, “As early as this fall, Nike planned on releasing another iteration of the FuelBand — an even slimmer version — but cancelled the project. And it appears to have shelved all future physical product projects under the Digital Sport helm, the person familiar with the matter added.” Re/code wrote about the matter on Friday, with their sources saying that “the decision over what to do has been debated for months within the company, due to high expenses, manufacturing challenges and the inability to make adequate margins on the business. In addition, sources note that Nike has been unable to attract as high a level of engineering talent as the business has grown.”

Jawbone’s 2011 recall of its first UP band, and Fitbit’s recent recalls of their Force band are other indications that making small wrist wearables isn’t easy.

Over the weekend, I played around with an Arduino, creating a ‘wearable’ by hooking up a display, 3-axis accelerometer, temperature sensor, vibrating motor, pulse sensor, and battery. With help from the team at iRoboticist, I was able to put together a working prototype. Thinking through all the parts in these devices gave me new appreciation for all the work that wearables-focused hardware and software engineers do – while balancing high consumer expectations (battery life length, water resistance, size, display quality…and the list goes on). Aside from building, there’s also managing the supply chain and handling the manufacturing aspect of the product cycle, which can often be tedious and unnerving.

Here are some neat teardowns of common wearables from iFixit (Fitbit Flex), Chipworks (Nike FuelBand), and iFixit (Pebble smartwatch). These sites give you a great inside look at all the components jammed into the thing you are wearing on your wrist.

The technology here has come a long way. Kudos to all the companies that continue to prioritize and innovate on wearable devices.

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Fjord Kitchen Event: Making Wearable Technology Mainstream

Last night I attended Fjord’s When Will Wearables Go Mainstream? event at the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco.

Fjord is a premier digital service design consulting firm focused on the entire design workflow from smart management to concept development and branding. Creatively, the firm hosts Fjord Kitchen events where they pick an inspiring venue and introduce great food, people and topics together to establish entertaining and insightful discussions.

Hot topics throughout the night centered on the emergence of wearable trackers and how to balance simplicity vs. usability vs. actionability when creating a wearable device. For more insight from last night, check out Fjord’s Conversations blog.

Adam, Sarah, Bill, Sonny, Olof

Adam Gazzaley – Director, Neuroscience Imaging Center, UCSF
Sarah Rotman – Epps Senior Analyst, Forrester Research
Bill Geiser – CEO, MetaWatch
Sonny Vu – CEO, Misfit Wearables
Olof Schybergson – CEO, FJORD

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DNA Data Storage: Replacing Your Hard Drive

DNA, nature’s data storage vehicle, has been successfully converted into storing personal files and photos – perhaps eventually replacing the hard drive. Of course any practical use is decades away – but scientists (Ewan Birney, Nick Goldman and collaborators) were able to store a complete set of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a PDF of the first paper to describe DNA’s structure, a mp3 clip from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a text file of an algorithm and a JPEG of the European Bioinformatics Institute, where the research was conducted. As stated in their paper published in Nature, “Digital production, transmission and storage have revolutionized how we access and use information but have also made archiving an increasingly complex task that requires active, continuing maintenance of digital media. This challenge has focused some interest on DNA as an attractive target for information storage because of its capacity for high-density information encoding, longevity under easily achieved conditions and proven track record as an information bearer.”

The process is expensive and time consuming, but the research team found it very accurate and hardy. DNA, when properly treated, can stay intact for thousands of years. The data to be stored is first decompressed and translated into the four bases of DNA – A, G, T, C, using software that Goldman designed, and then those bases are synthesized into strands of DNA. When you want to look at your saved data, simply sequence the DNA strands and then plug the string of AGTC’s back into Goldman’s software, which will convert the data into its original file form.

For DNA data storage to really take off, the price of synthesizing and sequencing DNA needs to be cheaper and easier. Perhaps one day, it will become more of a reality.

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Health 2.0: Healthcare Innovation and Transformation

One of the liveliest conferences I’ve been to, this year’s Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference did not disappoint with new product launches, lots of startup funding money, and yes, even an onstage skit. Speakers ranged from CEOs of large billion dollar companies – Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, self-made mega-brand entrepreneurs – Jillian Michaels, and BIG DATA personalized predictive health start-ups – Chris Hogg, CEO of 100Plus. The conference ends on Wednesday with DC to VC, a pitch-fest organized by Morgenthaler Ventures and Health 2.0.

Some facts from Health 2.0:

  • $1.03BN in healthcare funding raised in 2011
  • $1.13BN in healthcare funding raised in the first 9 months of 2012
  • Biggest growth areas in healthcare startups: patient/provider communication and self management tools

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Event to Attend: Rock Health’s Health Innovation Summit

Yesterday’s Rock Health — Health Innovation Summit was high energy, informative, and thought provoking. If you missed it, check out the rockstars who presented here.

I spoke to some interesting businesses at the demo show, including health, wellness, and quantified self startups. I’ll be writing about these companies in the next several months so stay tuned!

Andy Grove, Co-founder, CEO, former chairman and now Advisor to Intel Corporation speaking about what we need in healthcare: cost analysis/accounting, willingness to approximate for the future, and facts – all the facts.

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23andMe & The Violinist’s Thumb: The Music of DNA

I started reading a book last week that just published this summer called The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code.

The author, Sam Kean, does a wonderful and colorful job of detailing the history and importance of DNA through stories. In Chapter 4, he discusses the “musical score” of DNA and how some musicians have actually translated the A-T-C-G sequence of serotonin into tunes. I was just thinking about how interesting that is (having played the violin for 10 years), when the most appropriate email appeared from 23andMe.

As I had detailed in an earlier post, 23andMe has used my DNA sample to enhance my understanding of my high/low susceptibility of various diseases and my carrier status. Now, they have also composed a DNA melody for me. How does it work? From the website, “This lab creates a melody based on several traits that 23andMe reports on. Your melody will differ from another person’s depending on your specific genotype (ie. AA, GT, CT, etc.).” Pretty neat!


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IMS Research: Wearable Technology Market to Exceed $6 Billion by 2016

IMS Research released a press release on the expected growth of wearable devices, citing that by 2016 wearable technology will represent a minimum revenue opportunity of $6 billion. This is great news — currently most devices surround healthcare, medical, fitness and wellness areas and there is certainly room for expansion. Press release found here.

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Healthcare Technology: Government Sponsored Cartoon

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has created a three minute cartoon called “Health IT for You—Giving You Access to Your Medical Records.” Cute and easy to watch.

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News: Mobile Health Gaining Traction

Good news on the mobile healthcare front—  GlobalData, a market research firm, announced last week that the global mobile health market was worth $1.2 billion in 2011 and will rise in value to reach $11.8 billion by 2018. The growth can be largely attributed to increased smartphone and tablet usage and the introduction of more health related apps. See the full press release here: GlobalData.

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Thoughts: Who Health App Companies Should Target — Get Doc’s On Board

Whenever I evaluate a business, regardless of industry, my first few questions are always centered around:


1) Industry: What is the size of the addressable market? Who are the major players in the space? Is the market relatively fragmented? What are the near term growth or expansion opportunities?

2) Sales: How does this business make money? (i.e. free application that gets paid based on advertisement revenue, software as a service, subscription model, paid upgrades, etc.)

3) Audience: Who is paying for this software / buying this item and how difficult is it to acquire each additional user?


In addition to the WSJ article, Mitchell released a poll last week that Baby Boomers are more likely to download and purchase health apps when recommended by a doctor. This of course sounds very reasonable, but should also send a lightbulb to healthcare companies regarding who they should market to — get doctors on board, and soon patient users will follow.

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