Connected health devices gain traction with success tied to design quality, user experience

Nearly one-third of U.S. homes with broadband access own and use at least one connected health device, and 13 percent are very likely to buy such a device in the next 12 months, according to new Parks Associates research data.

The top connected devices are treadmills, exercise bikes and ellipticals boasting baked-in support for mHealth apps. But the device list may quickly change to include wearables, from fitness trackers to monitoring products, given increasing consumer demand and vendor innovations. Parks' data predicts more than 32 million U.S. consumers will actively track personal health and fitness online or via mobile by 2016.

Wearables, now viewed as a developing area, will likely quickly move into the mainstream given Apple's impending news of an "iWatch" expected Tuesday. But that doesn't mean Apple will dominate the sector.

MHealth device success and growth, says Harry Wang, Parks Associates' director of health and mobile product, depends on several aspects.

"Many demand-side drivers are keeping the connected health and wellness market's growth momentum strong. The ongoing healthcare reforms call for preventive, coordinated, and accountable care," Wang tells FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview, adding the requirements "encourage investments from payers into consumer-oriented health and wellness programs and encourage care providers to extend their relationships with patients beyond the care facility."

To succeed vendors must sharpen focus on design quality and user experience, notes Wang.

"Irrespective of actual form factor, today's consumers, be they tech-savvy youth or aging boomers, would prefer their health and wellness devices project lifestyle statements about who they are, instead of serving as evidence of being sick or needing help," he says.

While wearables seem to be breaking out of the fitness band look into more fashionable designs, such as smart watches that look like traditional watches, a user's needs must remain at the forefront, Wang adds.

"Product designers must consider the fashion tastes of different demographic groups and factor in age-appropriateness and gender-sensitivity. Choice and personalization are as important to consumers' shopping considerations as being trendy or artsy," he says.

The growing adoption of connected mHealth devices comes as consumers are embracing the technology despite looming hurdles. Doctors remain hesitant to prescribe mHealth apps and devices, given what some term as immature tech, and research that indicates greater data security is necessary.

In the meantime, everyone from Samsung and Google to start-up app makers are moving into the mHealth market. Survival, says Wang, is all about providing a truly needed service.

"The ability to demonstrate device health and wellness benefits will become a product differentiator and a key factor for sustainable consumer demand when replacement purchases start to drive sales volume," he says.

To learn more:
- read the research announcement

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