Wear-for art thou, wearable

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich has been the Jerusalem Post’s Health and Science Editor for many years, and I am truly blessed to call her friend. She regularly sends me articles of great import about medicine, health and medical technology. The last one she sent me, named “How to assess the effectiveness of activity trackers for improving health” started me thinking about the present and future of wearables. These devices are subject to the same exponential evolution that all technology is. That means that as every year passes, they dramatically shrink and become more powerful. Considering how small these devices are to begin with, it begs the question – when will they become “internables” rather than wearables. The following is derived from my email response to Judy.


I read your article right after finishing watching “the Grinch who stole Christmas”. I know, you’re thinking to yourself, why am I watching this classic after Christmas. Somehow this year, I didn’t manage to watch all of my classic Christmas movies in time. Such is life.

I remember, many years ago in a galaxy far far away, buying a Windows CE device which was meant to be the ultimate digital companion. At the time, it cost $600, which is equivalent to 2 1/2 trillion dollars today. I desperately tried to make it my companion, even though it required constant wired updates and could not substitute as my regular phone. I tried another couple of companions, but my wife insisted on no more secretaries in the house. Then, I tried a couple more digital companions, and I found the same problem as everyone else – carrying around a phone was already enough of a hassle. People did not want to have to carry two devices. For those in the workplace environment, where they were always wearing a jacket, it was less of an issue because they could place the digital companion inside the pocket of the jacket. But I have only worn a jacket at weddings, specifically my own, so it still didn’t work out.

It actually was only a few years ago, when the first truly smart phones came out, that I finally found my digital mistress. I was able to manage my emails, contact lists, calendar and other functions all from a single device that was also my phone. I presently use a Nexus 5, which in my opinion is an excellent phone, especially for the price. There is already a newer version, the Nexus 5X, but I am holding off to see what Google comes out with in another year, both in terms of its excellent operating system, Android, and hardware in terms of a new phone. I am one of those pseudo-Luddites that does not upgrade automatically and immediately when a new version comes out. I am still happily using Windows 7, and as I just noted, I am more than happy with a year old phone.

I am saying all of this because despite the penetration of wearable devices into the general community, wearables are still too bulky and expensive to be ultimately successful. This Christmas was definitely a huge boon to the wearable market, as wearables were the ideal gift for the person who already has everything else they don’t need. But, just like the stationary bicycle, many people stop using their new and fancy wearables within a few months of obtaining them.

The solution will be the same as with digital assistants. Once wearables have been incorporated entirely into our mobile phones, or have been inserted, sewn into, implanted or transported into our clothes and bodies, their full potential will not be realized. I take as the perfect example, the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is a critical vaccine that can save the lives of millions around the world. But even though it is a single injection with practically zero complications, it still requires an effort to go and get the vaccine. Buying a phone is definitely an effort, but a phone these days is seen as a life critical device far beyond that of the vaccine. So if your phone could deliver the flu vaccine, or an implanted device could do the same, THEN everyone would get the flu vaccine.

A wearable is still not perceived as a life critical device, even though it may be for some people, especially with life-threatening diseases (such as diabetics). However, once a digital assistant that fully quantifies our bodies and our health is reduced to a self implantable device that comes with every new phone, there will never be full reach into the general public. If wearables become so cheap and so standard that every piece of cloth that is purchased in the form of clothes, bedsheets, towels and the like, are automatically potential sources of digital information, then our personal phone/supercomputers will secretly coordinate all of these sources of data into one mega-source, not to be confused with Megasaurus or Megatron. Yes, I’m still a child.

I would be surprised if it takes longer than 10 years for all of this to happen. Of course, my wife reminds me, that 20 years ago I said that I would be surprised if it takes longer than 20 years to cure cancer. Guess what? Surprise!! Nevertheless, using the new crystal ball I got for the holiday that shall remain nameless, I now predict that it will be 20 to 30 years until we cure not only cancer but many other diseases. If you have an hour, I can send you a link to the best lecture I have ever heard on present day and soon to be biotechnology. The contents of the lecture sound like science fiction, but in fact, it’s all real.

So, what’s the next major innovation? Smart tzitzit? It’s just a matter of time.

Thanks for listening.

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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