Will the latest Apple Watch be a game-changer for the mPERS market?

Sept. 14, 2018
Apple Watch Series 4 able to detect falls, automatically notify first responders

Earlier this week, Apple released the latest version of its Apple Watch, which in addition to being the next “must-have” gadget for techies everywhere, could also see a fair share of demand from senior adults as well.

While the tech giant’s designs on the smart home and connected health markets are certainly nothing new, the Apple Watch Series 4 offers several features that could revolutionize the mobile Personal Emergency Response Systems (mPERS) market. Chief among them are the watch’s accelerometer and gyroscope which, when combined with custom algorithms, enable it to detect hard falls sustained by the user. If a fall is detected, the watch sends an alert to the user that can either be dismissed or used to call first responders. If the user is immobilized for longer than a minute after the notification is sent, the watch will automatically call 911 and send a message with the user’s location.

Pushing further into the connected health arena, the watch features an electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using a new ECG app developed by the company. It can also intermittently analyze a user’s heart rhythms and send notification if an irregular rhythm, caused by a condition like AFib, is detected. 

Kristen Hanich, Research Analyst for Parks Associates, says that the Series 4 watch is both a “game-changer and opportunity” for the PERS market. Hanich expects the PERS market to grow by about 60 percent between now and 2022 as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, and demand for mPERS will more than double during that time span.

“Smart watches, especially cellular smart watches, will be a big part of that - they are mobile, they look good, and they don't have the stigma associated with traditional PERS devices,” Hanich adds.

According to Blake Kozak, Principal Analyst for Smart Home and Security Technology at IHS Markit, giving seniors the ability to wear a watch vs. a pendant also has built-in advantages. “Since seniors often balk at having to wear a device around their neck, this could be well received by tech-savvy seniors, or at least tech-savvy caregivers,” he says.

Impact on PERS Dealers

With fall detection and other connected health features built into the watch, Apple seems poised to gain significant market share in the PERS sector; however, Kozak says security dealers with more traditional PERS offerings shouldn’t panic quite yet as the high upfront costs for the watch itself – a minimum price tag of $400 – combined with the required hardware (iPhone 6 or later with the latest iOS software) and cell plan may make it unpalatable for many older consumers, at least early on. 

Kozak adds that the mPERS segment is still much smaller that of the fixed PERS market, further limiting the impact this could have on the overall market in the immediate future.

“There were about 4.2 million PERS users in 2017 in the Americas region, with mobile PERS still being smaller than fixed (landline only) PERS until 2019,” Kozak says. “The first cellular capable watch from Apple was released in 2017, and IHS Markit estimates about five million sold annually.”

Given the advantages offered by the Apple Watch and other wearable devices, Hanich says PERS providers will likely embrace BYOD as a philosophy and may even begin selling Apple Watches themselves, allowing customers to use them as their mobile monitoring device where the dealer provides professional monitoring, including for in-home devices.

“The benefit of professional monitoring is that it cuts down on false positives - and using in-home devices means that the service will detect a fall even if the senior isn't wearing their watch,” she says.  “When a professional monitoring service detects a fall, it will call the senior or someone else in their household to get in touch with them before alerting EMS - this allows the service provider to identify false positives from activities like quickly lying down, or climbing into a car. The Series 4 does not do this.”

ROI for Consumers

Even with the upfront costs, Kozak says those looking to use the Apple Watch as a replacement for other mPERS offerings could see a relatively quick return on their investment.

“A basic cellular plan with data and talk is from $30-$40 each month; then for the Apple Watch cellular, is another $5-$10 each month. So with a basic plan for a used mobile device, the cost each month could be from $30-$50 - which is less than some mobile PERS providers today, which can cost as much as $60 each month and upfront costs of about $150,” Kozak explains. “Overall, to compare the costs, it would take about 12 months to make up for the $400 price tag of Apple Watch Series 4 compared to the upfront cost of many mobile PERS systems.”

Kozak adds that the watch’s ECG monitor, which would cost about $100 extra with other PERS systems, would drop the savings return for the Apple Watch to about seven months. However, while the watch will likely cut into the market due to its capabilities and the familiarity that consumers have with Apple products, Hanich doesn’t think it will take over the mPERS market, as it wasn’t purposefully designed for the segment.

“We're going to see a lot of consumers buying these watches for their parents - but the parents may not use them or even keep them charged," she says. "There will continue to be a place for smart watches and other devices specifically designed for this segment.”

About the Author:

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at [email protected].