There's been a lot of talk about how smart watches don't provide a lot of practical usefulness aside from a few well-timed notifications. They're slowly developing the capability of doing much more though. Some smart watch apps monitor us and even analyze what we're doing with our bodies. This means smart devices are playing an ever-increasing role in the future of health and health care.

Smart watches are already making waves with dozens of health and fitness applications. By acting as pedometers and heart rate monitors for example, smart watches can help us reach fitness goals and watch out for irregularities. In even more nuanced usage of such devices, they can analyze your golf swing or other movements related to sports and athletics.

Data is Disrupting the Healthcare Industry

One of the more fascinating aspects of all this is the role smart devices will play in the healthcare industry. By keeping tabs on motion and movements, connected devices will literally save our lives in the future through a combination of data, location and position awareness. In fact, a recent survey by Accenture determined that  31 percent of insurers currently use data from wearable devices to engage with their customers, something that even corporate HR departments are looking into.

Privacy issues aside, using data to keep tabs on people's health can help increase productivity and ensure lifestyle goals are met--something that employers and healthcare insurers have a vested interest in. For regular people, the goal might be to just get in better shape, develop better life habits. Some apps may even save peoples' lives in an emergency. Here are three products that are helping people already.

1. SmokeBeat from Somatix

Even with increased efforts in marketing the dangers of smoking, tobacco still kills over 5 million people annually around the world. It also causes $500 billlion in healthcare costs and productivity losses each year. According to studies, 70 percent of smokers worldwide want to quit. Half actually try quitting, 10 times on average throughout their life, although only 7 percent succeed in kicking the habit permanently.

The key to successfully quitting is data, says Eran Ofir, CEO and co-founder at Somatix. The company's technology leverages data for "incentive-based behavior modification," which can be used to help smokers quit.

Somatix built "SmokeBeat," which works with smartwatches to identify whether a person is smoking by keeping real-time tracking of hand-to-mouth gestures. Once the gestures are recognized, the app helps people change behavior.

"We expose the user to financial, emotional, social, and rational incentives for quitting smoking," says Eran Ofir, CEO and cofounder. "We then measure over time the effect of each type of incentive on the user and change the 'dosages' and the messages in order to increase the efficacy of the smoking reduction process towards cessation - all this is done with the advice of physicians, clinicians and counselors."

Beyond keeping track of hand movements, Somatix also uses a cloud-based engine in analyzing all the data it gets from users. It uses machine learning techniques to find smoking patterns. "For instance, SmokeBeat can learn insights into the activities or situations that trigger the need to light up, and the app will provide support and guidance in a timely manner," says Ofir.

2. Pebble Seizure Detect

Another app worthy of mention is Pebble Seizure Detect, an open-source software developed for the Pebble Watch platform. It has a very specific function: simply to detect whenever the wearer experiences seizures, and then to text specific contacts for help.

According to the CURE Epilepsy Organization, an estimated 65 million individuals worldwide currently live with epilepsy. Annually, about 50,000 deaths occur in the US alone due to prolonged seizures. The main intent of the Pebble Seizure Detect app is to notify family members or other "in case of emergency" persons whenever the wearer is experiencing seizures.

"If a potential seizure is detected, the app will automatically send text messages to the phone numbers you specify during setup," says Ryan Clark, an independent game developer who built the app after his wife (who has epilepsy) experienced a seizure in 2014. "The text messages include a link to a Google Map showing the wearer's last known GPS location."

Clark says there can sometimes be false alarms. In those cases, the user can simply cancel the alarm if it goes off inadvertently even without an actual seizure occurring. He chose the Pebble Watch as the app's platform, as it is among the least expensive of smartwatches, starting at $99 retail.

3. SamCPR from SamAid

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is one of the essentials of first aid. When done right, chest compressions can help save the life of cardiac arrest victims during an emergency. The problem here is training and capability. Not everyone has the proper training and know-how to do CPR.

There are already a handful of smartphone-based apps that assist in CPR or provide some basic training, although a study by biomedical and electronic engineers at the University of Ulsan in South Korea say that these are limited in terms of accuracy of chest compression depths and timing. In a published feasibility study, The Korean team concludes that smartwatches have better potential in providing feedback on CPR accuracy.

While the Korean team has not applied this knowledge yet to an actual app, a good example of an application that leverages inputs from smartwatches is SamAid's SamCPR, which also uses data from the device's accelerometer in determining whether chest compression depth is adequate. Counting doctors among its founders, the Dutch startup's app acts as a guide to both proper rate (using a metronome) and proper depth. It gives feedback to push deeper or faster, as needed. The app will also call an emergency number and give locations.


Whether it's as simple as determining speed and movements from the accelerometer, or as complicated as keeping track of user behavior through machine learning, one thing is for sure. Data, coupled with connected devices, can be hugely beneficial. Once you have access to this motion and location data, you're on your way to living a healthier life, or even saving it during an emergency.