Apple Watch SOS and mPERS: Apples and oranges?

PERS execs compare features, assess competition
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

YARMOUTH, Maine—On first inspection, the Apple Watch’s newly announced ‘SOS’ feature may seem similar to an mPERS device, but PERS experts who spoke to Security Systems News said comparing an Apple Watch with an mPERS device is like comparing apples and oranges.

Apple in June announced new features for its Apple Watch 2, which its expects to release later this year. Here’s how the Apple Watch SOS feature works: If an Apple Watch user holds down the device’s side button, nearby emergency services and the user’s emergency contacts will be notified.

PERS executives point out the differences.

Daniel Oppenheim, VP of Affiliated Monitoring, told SSN that Apple Watch’s feature could heighten consumer’ awareness of personal emergency features and grow the market, instead of cannibalize it. He also said that the demographics for the two devices are different. “I think the Apple Watch, specifically, is for a more mobile, more active, more tech-savvy person who would not yet be an mPERS or PERS customer.”

Former Numera CEO and current Group VP of the Nortek Innovations & Incubation Foundry Tim Smokoff compared Nortek’s offerings to Apple Watch SOS. One differentiator for Nortek is "the advanced fall detection capabilities. In order to have highly reliable fall detection, you need to have something around your torso,” he said.

Most mPERS units are typically worn as pendants around the neck, making them more compatible for fall detection than the Apple Watch, which is on the wrist.

Another big difference is battery life. The Apple Watch lasts about 18 hours, whereas the Libris mPERS device will run for about two-and-a-half days on average, Smokoff said.

There is a gap in price between the Apple Watch, which needs an iPhone to work, and the Libris mPERS device, which stands alone and costs less than the Apple Watch.

Brock Winzeler, GM of mPERS manufacturer Freeus, is not concerned about competition from Apple Watch SOS feature. “It is very, very difficult to replace the services that we offer. … Our devices call a monitoring center that is specifically built to handle PERS phone calls and PERS emergencies,” he said.

Oppenheim shared a similar sentiment on the value of a monitoring center. “That crucial decision-making process, by which an operator can have a conversation and identify whether or not help is needed—and stay on the line with the customer as help is on its way, for those that do need it—I do not see that being replaced by technology.”

Winzeler also said there is a technology barrier for the traditional PERS demographic. “I think you’ll have a really tough time getting the senior demographic to adopt this type of technology. I think it’s just a little more challenging.” To operate the SOS feature the user’s Apple Watch needs to be near the user’s iPhone or connected to Wi-Fi, and both the watch and phone need to be charged.

Rich Darling, CEO of Instant Care, an OEM PERS manufacturer, concurred. “It is our belief that the Apple watch is a fantastic device for the tech-savvy user. However, as a … PERS OEM we have found that the most successful products targeting the PERS market are designed to require very little from the user, and perform as required when the need arises.”

While some mPERS companies are focusing on new and emerging markets—such as hikers, lone workers or for college campus safety—most PERS and mPERS companies say the aging-in-place market is the technology’s main demographic.

Oppenheim said Amazon’s Echo product could enter the market in the future. “In its current iteration, the Amazon Echo is not competition, but it is a harbinger of things to come, which is the realization that consumer products now have the ability to replicate or even improve on the current technology offerings of our industry,” he said.

“I don’t view either [Amazon Echo’s virtual assistant] Alexa or the Apple Watch as a near-term threat to the PERS industry—[but] I think it’s something that we need to be focused on,” Oppenheim said.