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CES 2016 Q&A: Valencell President LeBoeuf Talks Wearables

Dr. Steven LeBoeuf is co-founder and president of Valencell, a leading supplier of sensors to the CE market. We asked him to catch us up on the state of the wearables category.

TWICE:Do you see the wearables market entering a period of maturity or have we just scratched the surface of wearables’ potential?

Dr. Steve LeBoeuf: 2015 proved that the biometric wearables market is sustainable and growing rapidly with tens of millions of consumers purchasing products. However, tens of millions of consumers worldwide do not make a mass consumer market; by comparison, more than 1 billion mobile phones sell each year. A product category is considered being a “mass consumer category” only if there are hundreds of millions of consumers of that product category every year and we’re simply not there yet. The next question is: “Will biometric wearables be mainstream within the next two years?”

Two big things to look for are 1) form-factors and 2) branding trends.  Regarding form-factors, we expect to see numerous non-wrist form-factors gain major traction in the next two years, particularly biometric “hearables” — ear-worn smart wearables. What’s particularly interesting about hearables is that they serve a function other than biometric monitoring and come with a myriad of important “smart” features such as audio recognition and smart audio control. Thus, user engagement over a long period of time can be high, enabling long-term, autonomous analysis of health and prediction of health outcomes, even if folks are using the devices not primarily for health monitoring. It provides a way to collect insightful health data and pattern recognition “in the background”.

Considering branding, the market is beginning to recognize an aspect of basic human nature that anything you put on your body – clothing, jewelry, shoes, and wearables – communicate some level of personal, public statement about you. Leading wrist-watch brands have known this for many years and you will see them start to get into the wearables game (i.e., Tag Heuer, Swatch, and Fossil).

Since a major consumer value in wearables is branding and the communication of personal identity, it’s clear that not every consumer interested in fitness or health tracking will want to wear a Fitbit or Apple Watch. This suggests that consumers will soon demand biometric wristwatches that have a diversity in style and branding. The same can be said for fashion-focused brands that are entering the market with biometric wearables, such as Caeden with their Sona connected bracelet.

TWICE:We have seen the breadth of measurable biometric data grow substantially, but, there has also been reports of some mainstream fitness products being less than accurate. Is there a concern that the industry is growing too fast with too many players muddying the waters for consumers?

LeBoeuf: What will ultimately drive the need for accuracy in the consumer marketplace are use cases that demand accuracy. For example, the data from wearables that are used in a number of fitness assessments are also very relevant in personal health assessments. If the biometrics of a wearable device are accurate, then extremely valuable fitness and health use cases that move from just reporting data to providing personalized assessments, guidance and planning can be generated for the consumer. Fortunately, the technology exists today, thanks to innovators such as Valencell, but only recently have major brands viewed accuracy as critical. This means that it will take a while for health and fitness products powered by highly accurate biometrics to reach scale in the marketplace.

TWICE:Besides the health care and fitness industries, what other technology categories or products can you see benefiting from the integration of biometric sensors and data collection?

LeBoeuf: a) Biometric gaming — Biometric gaming is a new and fascinating frontier, where the user’s biometrics affect the game-play. What’s more, biometric gaming (like hearables) can provide yet another avenue for grabbing biometric data points from users in the background, without them having to consciously take measurements, and using that information to generate health assessments for the user.

b) User Experience — The interplay between user experience and biometrics is intriguing. For example, imagine the situation where your stress levels affect the font size of a view screen, making it easier to see the important items, or cause a speech-recognition program to listen more carefully to your voice.

TWICE:Outside of the fitness market, do you see wearable health care products as more of a commercial or enterprise play rather than a consumer category?

LeBoeuf: Wearable health products will certainly support use cases both categories. Specifically, in the commercial/enterprise segment there are many examples including: personalized healthcare, home monitoring, ambulatory monitoring, and vital-status monitoring for military, first-responder, or industrial markets. For example, imagine the situation where biometrically monitored commercial drivers can be intelligently rotated to prevent stress-related driving accidents. These types of examples are being developed now and you’ll see those accelerate in the future.

TWICE:Has there been any thought to Valencell moving beyond components to market its own branded consumer products?

LeBoeuf: Folks who’ve tried to develop both biometric sensor innovations and consumer products have routinely failed. Valencell’s business model is to develop and license accurate, clinically-validated, effective, and affordable wearable biometric sensor technology that can be used in a variety of consumer products and form-factors. This means that Valencell will continue to focus on technology development rather than product manufacturing, consumer marketing, and retail sales.