Austin companies discuss wearable technology at SXSW Panelists talk devices' shortcomings, future

Representatives from Austin-based companies including Mutual Mobile and BSX Athletics discussed where they see wearable technology in the future at “Wearables: The Future Isn’t in Measuring the Past,” a South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals panel held March 14.

Wearables

Representatives from Austin-based companies, including Dustin Freckleton, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based BSXAthletics;
Abhi Bhatt, developer of products with Under Armour; Mickey Ristroph, CEO of Austin-based Mutual Mobile; and Josh Gunkel, senior developer and program manager Garmin, spoke on the future of wearable technology at the 2016 South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals on March 14. Brett Thorne

Fitness trackers such as FitBits and Jawbones have seen “tremendous growth” in recent years, but consumers are already beginning to abandon their devices, according to the panel description. Dustin Freckleton, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based wearable tech company BSXAthletics, said during the SXSW Interactive panel that wearable tech companies need to gain a better understanding of what consumers want before they can solve the industry’s issues. The industry must do a better job of providing useful information to users rather than just raw data, he said.

“Most people don’t really care about data,” Freckleton said. “They care about information—information that helps them to make smarter decisions to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.”

Freckleton was joined by Mickey Ristroph, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based software company Mutual Mobile. Ristroph said wearable technology companies are “barely scratching the surface” of the industry’s potential.

“We’re collecting all this data, and it’s amazing that we have the data, and there was definitely a first phase of, ‘Oh, now I can know how many calories I burned’ and ‘Now I can [see] how many steps I’ve walked,’ but what we’re really seeing as a gap is, ‘What does that mean?'”said Josh Gunkel, senior developer and program manager with Garmin.

Garmin has been in the wearable technology business for 10 years, Gunkel said. A decade ago the company released a watch-like GPS tracker to help hikers know where they were and how far they had traveled.

The key, Gunkel said, is providing actionable information to help users make better decisions. As an example, he said nutrition companies have recently begun using data collected by wearables to advise clients on what they should eat to refuel their bodies.

“So if you’re [training] for a marathon you can see your plans you’re doing and the activities you’ve done over the last few days and the calories spent on that, and nutrition companies can take that and tell you what you should eat and what’s coming in the future and what you’ve done in the past,” he said.

Abhi Bhatt, developer of products with Under Armour, said he hopes in the future the discussion about how to make wearable tech more fashionable—which panelists agreed was an issue with many devices—becomes a moot point. Wearable technology will begin to be integrated into clothing and accessories most people wear on a daily basis, he said.

Under Armour released in early 2016 the Speedform Gemini II Record-Equipped running shoe, which includes embedded technology that is not visible to the naked eye. The shoe provides feedback such as step counting and stride measuring.

“I’m hoping that this becomes more invisible,” Bhatt said. “We don’t need something strapped to your wrist or in your eyes.”

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