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Virgin Active CIO calls for wearables market to adopt open standards

Health club provider's IT chief claims boosting the interoperability of devices will increase their overall usefulness to consumers

Virgin Active CIO Andy Caddy has warned that a lack of interoperability between different types of wearable devices could prevent the technology from reaching its full market potential.

Caddy has been the health club provider’s CIO for around two years, and in that time has overseen Virgin Active’s “connected club” push, which has seen it introduce a range of technologies at selected sites that help users track every stage of their workout.

Speaking at the 2015 Cloud World Forum event taking place in London on 24 and 25 June, Caddy said despite the wide range of health-related wearables on the market today, most people stop using them in six months.

“The market is being driven by low-cost sensor technology, wireless and the cloud. Anyone could do this stuff. I’ve seen smart socks, sensors in belts, hats and vests, and what’s clear to me is no-one really knows which way it’s going to go,” said Caddy.

Even companies that appear to have conquered this part of the wearables market could rapidly find themselves and their technology falling out of favour, as new devices emerge at much lower price points, he warned.

“No-one will spend $100 dollars on a Fitbit next Christmas. It’s gone. There will be a race to the bottom for the devices, and then we’ll see people start to do things with the software. That’s where things need to go,” he said.

Safe-guarding the future for wearable devices

Wearable devices, Caddy suggested, are at a similar point in their development as the smartphone market was before the emergence of the iPhone in 2007. All the elements required to make a successful device are emerging, but the industry is still working out the best way to package it.

In the meantime, and based on the feedback of his 1.4 million members, Caddy said there are four areas that need to be addressed to increase the shelf-life and overall usefulness of wearables.

Battery life is one (as users tire of constantly having to recharge their devices), along with being able to do more with the data the devices collect about them.

For instance, recording the number of steps someone takes is all well and good, but what users are looking for is more “intelligent” feedback on how the exercise they take on one day should influence the dietary choices they make on the ones that follow, said Caddy.

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Users also want their devices to be “friction-free”, so they can easily interact with other wearables, rather than just being gadgets that serve a single purpose.

“Users want open platforms and they want products that work together. It seems crazy, but there are no existing standards to help that. 

“Thankfully, some of the big suppliers are working on this, but we need someone to come in [and create a standard]. If we can get open platforms then we can get standards in place, meaning we can get smart software and do so much more,” he said.

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