Survival of the Fitness Wearable

What many wearable developers fail to see is that fitness wearables lack a “part two.”

The past few years have shown fitness wearables to be very popular. However, their popularity has begun to dwindle. Observe most local parks, basketball courts, or gyms and you will be unlikely to find many people equipped with them. Although certainly beneficial as a motivational tool, the problem lies within the fact that fitness wearables don’t show long-term usage benefits. Most are categorized as information wearables; they focus on tracking and recording user data and displaying it back to the user. But it’s lasting power may be limited.

Information wearables are arguably useless for many physical sports and fitness. If someone asked you what the purpose of fitness is, it could be described as something that challenges the limits of your body and what it can achieve. Fitness is also described as an outlet for stress and a distraction-free time, helping reduce and mitigate the effects of stress on your body and mind. Filling this time with numbers, updating data, and “ideal” numerical targets will burden the user’s mind. Fitness wearables that act as an aid to working out actually provide another source of distraction. It’s the last thing a workout needs.

Users also have concerns that long-term wear will expose them to electromagnetic radiation and skin rashes. They place great emphasis on how the wearable will be perceived on them and its effect on their appearance, as well as how breathable the device is for skin. Reviews and discussions often note concerns of rashes and skin irritation from long-term exposure. Unfortunately, that’s built into the inherent design of the product; to be able to track data consistently, users need to wear the device at all times. Until designers tackle this issue, consumers will be skeptical and critical of its use.

The latest and most popular fitness wearables today include newer iterations of the same functions – heart rate, pace count, calories burned, etc. The new Fitbit charge tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep cycle detection, and caller ID. The Jawbone UP2 features the same functions, along with coaching notifications. The Moov Now is a similar device hinged on monitoring precise body movements to coach and motivate the user. It counts out your current reps, progress, pacing, and helps guide workouts. But they are all mild information wearables. To be truly successful, fitness wearables need a larger purpose.

The core of the problem is that there isn’t a strong value incentive for its usage. For most users, there is no need to check how many steps you’ve taken throughout the day. Users would much rather have a wearable that complements a function, such as rebreathers synced up to your lung capacity and heart rate, or wearables that synchronize your body to more complicated pieces of equipment.

What many wearable developers fail to see is that fitness wearables lack a “part two.” What is the second stage after displaying user information? Wearables track and analyze body data and return it to the user in a displayable format, but what happens next? Imagine running down a track with sensors lining your body, analyzing your sweat salinity, heart rate, and temperature. Would it be useful to have a suit that cools your body or heats it up depending on its sensors? Definitely. But there’s little one can do with only a display of this information. However, wearables with applications in high-risk sports and pharma would valuably utilize this data, and there is huge potential there with developments in health, augmentation, and safety.

Although the social aspect of Fitbit and its use as a motivational tool may be its most attractive selling point – never mind that it can be habit-forming – its key weakness is that most users simply grow out of fitness wearables. The core purpose of the wearable is to promote fitness and motivate the user, but once the user builds the discipline and exercise habits, what value is left? What is the reason to keep this wearable?

The biggest question is: Can you make a successful fitness wearable product at all? Arguably, yes. The Fitbit, Moov Now, and Jawbone are all successful, attractive, and effective devices. But will they be pervasive and sustain long-term habitual usage? Most likely not. There is a long way to go before wearables can provide a long-term, sustainable fitness application and strong value proposition. The pressure is on; its usefulness is running out.

Jaraad Mootee is a technology trend analyst at Idea Couture.

the author

Jaraad Mootee

Jaraad is a technology analyst at Idea Couture.