How Useful Are Activity And Fitness Trackers?

By James Malone

As more and more fitness trackers are thrown at the market, more and more consumers are failing to realize the benefits promised by wearable tech.

The promotional videos show futuristic graphs and charts appearing in the sky like amazing holograms. The harsh truth is that once fitness trackers have been unboxed they generally lasts six months before joining the other fitness trackers at the bottom of the drawer in the bedroom locker.

So why are more and more companies like Microsoft, Samsung and Apple racing to provide devices that simply offer little value? For Microsoft and Samsung the fear of missing out on a new boom of consumer devices is too great, they simply have to have something in the market. Apple on the other hand took with the Apple watch. This is one of the outliers along with FitBit in this new age of wearable tech. Not because it’s a nice new Apple device but because they have thought about what value they can return to the customer and built an eco-system around that in the Apple Health Kit.

You see once the novelty of something on your wrist wears off what are you left with? What benefit is it to me to know I walked 6574 steps today? Where is my incentive to continue using this device? Quiet simply there are no reasons to continue using these devices past the initial curiosity phase. They tell me nothing and become a hindrance and obsolete in my daily life. So where is the problem?

Value, Not Technology

In the technology world companies have become smarter and leaner thanks to working methodologies that get companies asking questions of customers early on in their life cycle. This lean start up mind-set is now commonplace and widely taught. So why are so many fitness trackers failing and what do consumers really want? The answer is simple, they want value not technology. Yes they obviously want new tech and the latest devices but why are they buying into these devices?

The Lost Promise Of Fitness Trackers

Since their inception fitness trackers have promised us a future of better health, improved fitness and increased longevity. It hasn’t panned out. The reason why is not the technology but the understanding of what consumers want and the desire to stay within the rules of the FDA.

As a consumer I want answers and feedback that is relevant and timely. This is where the true value is returned to customers and the device becomes superfluous. Here are some examples of things I would like to know.

  • James, your calcium intake is low for this time of the day, consider having a yogurt with lunch.
  • James, the coffee you are drinking at 18:00h will not leave your system till 4am, you didn’t sleep well last night and late coffees could be a contributing factor.
  • James by walking to work this week you have reduced your risk of heart disease by 0.002% maintaining this rate could improve your life expectancy by up to 2 years.
  • James, you have an elevated heart rate and body core temperature, consider this breathing exercise to relax as you seem nervous.
  • James, your sugar intake so far today at 13:00h exceeds the recommended average by four teaspoons. Consider reducing high sugar items for the remainder of the day.
  • James, based on the food items purchased today you could make these healthy recipes.
  • Geo-location: James, I have assessed the longest way to work that will give you an extra 10 minutes of exercise. Traffic is also 10% busier than normal so you should arrive at the usual time.
  • Geo-location: Blueberries are on offer in this store and in season, try these simple no bake recipes for lunch at work tomorrow.
  • Geo-location: Your 10am meeting is due to start in 20 minutes, if you use the stairwell you will increase your heart rate, improve oxygen intake and should be more alert for the meeting. Don’t forget to grab a glass of water on your way in.

Whilst I realize some of these insights are not possible currently, the main obstacle is not the lack of technology but fear. Fear of becoming a medical device, fear of giving advice that could adversely affect a user, fear of litigation and fear of privacy violations. It’s this fear that is curtailing innovation in fitness trackers and wearable devices and not the devices themselves.

Until we begin to return value to customers, customer adoption will remain in the novelty sphere. We may be some years away from the level of AI required to make these devices useful but a lot of the technology exists already. Google Maps became useful and valuable on mobile devices, when this happened adoption roared. The same will happen for consumer health insights. One day we will overcome privacy concerns and we will have FDA devices that are regarded as medical devices and sold at the drug store.

Before we reach this stage I fear we have many years of counting steps ahead of us.

By James Malone

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