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The Killer App for Wireless Health?

December 13, 2009

I’ve spoken to a couple of people recently who share the opinion that wireless health is in need of a killer app, which would accelerate adoption of wireless health products in the marketplace.

First, what is a killer app?
As Wikipedia describes it, the genesis for the term “killer app” was a reference to any computer program that was so desirable or necessary that it proved to be the core value of some larger technology. A killer app, of course, can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.

Some new examples/uses of the term:
– The usefulness of E-mail drew many people to use Computer Networks
– The Mosaic web browser is generally credited with the popularization of the World Wide Web, and hence the Internet
– The Halo game series for the Xbox

Killer apps and wireless networks (also from Wikipedia):
Portable devices are incorporated with more and more functionalities, such as photo/video camera, video phone, SMS, PDA, music player, video player, Bluetooth, and Wireless LAN. Communication networks for cell phones evolve around the need for increased bandwidth and better support for internet connections. The killer application for these platforms has to be compelling enough that users crave ownership of the latest devices and subscribe to these services, thus driving the future development of mobile networks and Internet. (Sounds like a clarion call to the mobile network operators!)

OK, we all know there are a bunch of projections for massive market growth of wireless health products. However, the market is very fragmented and, unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think there’s anything out there right now that can be considered a killer app for wireless health.

For purposes of discussion, perhaps the apparent strong consumer demand for the Fitbit (see links at the end of this post for more info), lend it to being used as an example worth discussing in this context, if for no other reason than to begin the discussion and raise awareness of the current state of wireless health. (Please note that at present time I have no affiliations with the company, its investors, founders, or employees.)

For reference, here’s an article by Josh Lowensohn on his experience with the Fitbit:
“My week with the Fitbit wireless pedometer”
http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-10365465-248.html

Now that you’ve read that, here’s the question I’m proposing to the group:
If the Fitbit achieves massive market penetration (i.e. obtains a huge user base), could it become the killer app for wireless health?

I came across two salient bits of information in Josh’s blog post that lead me to think it’s at least a possibility:

The company is… planning to roll out a public API for developers to build third-party tools that will let users access their data and use it in specialized applications. This means something like a GPS-enabled iPhone app could tap into your step count, then match that up to where you were, giving users an extra layer of information on top of that data.

The “goal is to get as many third party fitness tools integrated into the Fitbit site as possible, giving users a way to accurately track all the activities they’re doing where the Fitbit is unable to record, such as bicycling, rowing, swimming, etc.”

The two tidbits above — along with the other features and applications for using the product — seem to point to an open platform strategy for the device and website which, as we know from other highly-successful predicate products, tends to accelerate adoption. If Fitbit is successful in this strategy and enough users find the device and website to be “so desirable or necessary that it proves to be the core value of some larger technology”, i.e. wireless health, could it become the killer app for wireless health?

-Paul

———————————————————————————————————
Further reading:

Fitbit’s Motivator: A Virtual Flower
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/10/fitbits-motivator-a-virtual-flower/

Hamstrung by Delays, Fitbit Explains and Tries to Deliver
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/technology/start-ups/11fitbit.html 

What Microsoft could learn from tiny Fitbit
http://trueslant.com/claudiadeutsch/2009/12/11/what-microsoft-could-learn-from-tiny-fitbit/

I’ve also posted this discussion in the Wireless Health LinkedIn group http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=2181454&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr 

(Alternatively, you can go to LinkedIn and perform a group search for “Wireless Health”

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