These days, people are intricately tied to their smartphones and rarely disconnect. In a world buzzing with instant messages, mobile notifications and FOMO (fear of missing out), there’s a desperate need for calmness and internal peace that can be found away from connected devices. While many find ways to detox from the always-on lifestyle, a growing number of people are turning to mobile apps (powered by the cloud) to imporve their overall wellness.
A paper-thin device that rests under your sheets and monitors your sleep, smart home assistants that act as tech-driven therapists, and weight loss tips based on your breath are just a few examples of new WellTech that’s meeting people’s needs for peace of mind, according to Jeremiah Owyang, Industry Analyst, Kaleido Insights. And with the ongoing pandemic, Pandemic Tech solutions have exploded in the wellness sector.
“We definitely think ‘WellTech’ is the next digital era,” said Owyang in 2019. “We’ve seen social media and the social economy, the digitization of the world around us. The next phase is the digitization of our bodies, augmenting us.”
The “wellness” industry is worth more than $4.5 billion, according to The Global Wellness Institute.It’s a crowded field, but those at the top are reaping huge financial benefits.
One of the largest players in the wellness app business, Headspace, has more than 36 million users and is valued at over $250 million dollars. In 2020, meditation application Calm reached a $2 Billion valuation.The digital transformation is fundamentally changing wellness and healthcare by empowering better self care.
During shutdowns caused by the pandemic, people sought at-home wellness solutions via mobile apps and Zoom to decrease COVID-related stress. With more people stuck inside, there’s been an uptick in wellness-focused technology in the home.
“I have seen a leap from ‘smart home’ to ‘intelligent home’ — where the technology and thinking have evolved from ‘I can operate my faucet from across the room’ to ‘I can monitor the quality and usage of my home’s water supply,” said Carley Knobloch, a personal technology expert, in an interview with Forbes, “Once the sensors and the technology were there, everyone seems to have thought harder about how to have an impact not just on convenience but health.”
Growing Desire for Peace of Mind
Oywang said that we are turning toward technology as a reasonable way to address issues within four major wellness categories: our minds, bodies, communities and spaces. And after the last few years, who doesn’t want ways to feel better?
Most of these companies bring meditation and mental wellness to people via smartphones, and many rely on cloud technology to run their services, according to Owyang.
“In almost every case, we are seeing this tech collecting data from a mobile phone,” he said. “And that is being paired with the cloud, which is how many startups quickly scale without having on-premises infrastructure, and they can grow as their usage base grows.”
Journey Meditation is one of those companies rushing to meet the growing desire for services that offer peace of mind. In 2015o, Stephen Sokoler launched the company to bring mental clarity and emotional calm to large groups through in-person presentations. The work of stillness soon became big business as the company expanded to 20 branches in the nation’s biggest cities with clients like Nike, Disney and Facebook.
But Sokoler saw the physical limitations of that in-person experience. So, he built Journey Live, a mobile app, powered by cloud technology. It allows anyone in the world to meditate with a live instructor. Journey Live has 15-minute classes that are available nearly every hour. They also include on-demand sessions.
The wellness bug struck Sokoler several years ago, when he was among the masses of hard charging entrepreneurs feeling stressed and overwhelmed. That frazzle came from running his own startup company, Altrum Honors, while living amidst the bustle of New York City.
Then he found meditation.
“Life is stressful no matter who you are, and meditation really helped me,” Sokoler said.
“After I sold my company in September 2014, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but quickly realized I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.”
So, he began to share what enlightened his life.
Sokoler found meditation through Buddhism and realized that the health-related benefits of the practice could reach a much wider audience.
“Meditation was very misunderstood as religious, difficult, spiritual and confusing,” Sokoler said. “I thought we could do much better by meeting people where they were physically, financially and emotionally.”
Community Engagement, Grow with Cloud
Digital communities bloomed over the last two years as people turned to safe at-home ways to connect with others. Industries ripe for reinvention accelerated digital plans already in motion to meet increased demand.
As they continue to grow, the Journey team has tinkered with its interface and is actively making changes based on user data. Julien Veneziano, head of engineering at Journey and his team, rely heavily on data-driven analytics. Using a public cloud, they connect compatible technologies that crunch data like screen time and user movement into actionable changes.
The public cloud lets the team easily scale up and down as needed, and all trends point that they will need to scale up. Since the launch, they have had users from around the world join sessions and meditate together.
“This helps to democratize the practice,” Sokoler said. “We see people tuning in from Australia, Colombia, and even India. It's really beautiful to have this worldwide community of people that are meditating together.”
When crafting the app, he noticed that other major players lacked the community that group meditation creates. He wanted to recreate what he saw as the driving force of his in-person sessions through technology. Each of Journey’s classes bring meditators and teachers together in real-time via video or audio forming a shared experience.
“Live video has the ability for people to ask questions, interact and meditate with a friend, parent, colleague or a partner in real-time to share that experience,” Sokoler said.
They also empower AB testing, where a few users are given different interfaces, as they continue to change the app to maximize a user’s experience and time spent meditating.
Given the power of the cloud and the popularity of the WellTech movement, digital wellness entities like Journey are ready for growth. IT teams have the power to be at the forefront of better healthcare and overall wellness. If and when they add in 5G and more sophisticated AI that gives users real-time health updates and information, Oywang said the wellness boom will expand even further.
This is an updated version of an article that first published on August 30, 2019.
Jacob Gedetsis is a contributing writer. His work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Post Standard and The Plain Dealer, among others. Find him on Twitter @JacobGedetsis.
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