November 5, 2013
The Future Of Quantified Self

I have been working on passive and non-passive mobile tracking for the majority of my career. Up until this point, I have always felt that the majority of all tracking solutions have been nothing more than a stopgap before the hardware in smartphones could actually handle passive tracking in terms of battery life and data bandwidth. Navigation, local discovery, fitness tracking, retail, task crowdsourcing, and social networking are all going to be drastically changed by passive tracking capabilities being added to the core of smartphones.

Many of these industries have already been disrupted by non-passive tracking. I’m defining non-passive tracking as any solution that requires the user to take action and initiate tracking at the moment they need utility from the tracking app. The current fitness activity tracking apps are a great example of this. Before going for a run, you need to launch the app and click start to initiate the tracking.

What seems like a minor action by the user actually has much larger implications in creating additional user value. During the day you may quickly decides to take the stairs over the elevator, or walk a half mile to a new lunch spot. Those actions may not be recorded by the user and thus never tracked. This seemingly simple aspect of activity tracking has created a huge opportunity for independent passive tracking devices such as Fitbit, Jawbone Up, and others companies who focus purely on building separate passive fitness tracking devices that can handle the battery life that smartphones historically cannot. It is an important distinction as this industry battles to innovate and provide the most value to their users.

Chart provided by Google Trends. Innovation is the only way to stay ahead.

When smartphone’s can passively track, things are going to change. The launch of Google’s new Location APIs and Apple’s CoreMotion API allow these devices to passively track users’ location and activities without a lot of battery drain. You soon won’t need a separate passive tracking device to track your fitness activities as the smartphone you already own can now provide this feature.

The iPhone and Android platforms are extending their core capabilities. Each of the API’s documentation clearly use activity recognition and tracking as examples of their core capabilities.

The activity recognition service is a low power mechanism that allows application to receive periodic updates of detected user activities. For example, it can detect if the user is currently on foot, in a car, on a bicycle or still.

Being dependant on a platform, as all apps are, requires them to always be adding value on the fringe of these platforms. There is no value in duplicating the platform’s core functionality. But where does the Smartphone’s activity tracking capabilities end and where can apps innovate?

Big Data And Healthcare

If activity tracking is being done by the smartphone platforms, the current tracking apps can add value by extracting specific insight from the data collected. General insight from the data will surely be done by the platforms themselves but being able to take a deeper more specific dive for specific areas will be a great opportunity.

IBM recently just won a grant to use big data to predict heart disease long before it strikes. This type of innovation will need to be down for all types on health risks using all types of data. This research should provide the industry with greater insight into which patterns in health increase risks but consumers will need to have access to this information directly. It cannot be offloaded to the already overburdened healthcare system.

Startups like are doing a nice job combining health data-mining algorithms developed at research institutes and bring those capabilities directly to consumers. The app passively collects information on users and then uses that data combined with other collected health information to provide insight directly to consumer. It looks like they are also experimenting with partnerships with physicians and other medical professionals as well. As collecting health data becomes easier and easier to do, companies such as are on the cutting edge of innovation in this space. I just hope they can find the distribution they need to grow.

Health Coaching - CVS Minute Clinics

Another innovation in quantified self will be the use of health coaches. A combination between physical trainer, nurse, social worker, and pharmacist will become big business in the next 5 to 10 years. The world isn’t producing enough doctors to handle the world’s population and many of the tasks that a doctor performs on a day-to-day business include task that they are purely overqualified for. In fact, most manageable health conditions would be best treated on a low touch but more frequent and even day-to-day oversight by a low cost, non-doctor “health coaches” rather than by expensive monthly doctor office visits. These low touch health coach visits can be done virtually online or at local non-medical clinics. CVS minute clinics and other more retail-like clinics can also take on these day-to-day health coaching.


These industries are about to grow up a lot. The real value that will come from passive tracking will be world changing and disrupt many industries. Platforms are growing their core footprint and the ecosystem around them will be forced to innovate deeper into their perspective industries. Adapt or be acquired because new players will emerge and existing ones may quickly fade away.

Michael Sheeley is a Co-Founder of Kickscout.  You can find this post, as well as additional content on his blog called Make Great Software.  You can also follow Michael (@MichaelSheeley) on Twitter by clicking here.