Wearable Fitness Tracking Technology – Is it a fad or here to stay?

This essay will examine wearable fitness tracking devices and the recent rise of their popularity. In recent years sales of these products have soared, according to Statistica sales of health and fitness wearable devices in the UK rose from 6.7 million in 2014 to 13.7 million in 2015 a rise of 7 million sales, see figure 1 (Statista, 2016). Are they a fad or are they here to stay and how can they be developed further? By investigating the market and through my research this essay will look to answer this question. Looking to the future the essay will compare brands and look at how they plan to move ahead with their products in such a fast paced sector.

Tracking our activity levels is not a new phenomenon, in the 1960s Dr Yoshiro Hantano developed a pedometer called a ‘manpo-kei’, or 10,000 steps meter, see figure 2 (The British School in Toyko, 2012) which was a huge success.

This sector has developed rapidly in the last decade, see figure 4, from pedometers to wearable fitness tracking devices. With advances in technology and as devices have become more affordable (Mintel, 2015) it is now easy, social and fashionable for us to track our fitness. We have seen a huge growth in the popularity of these devices with everyday consumers who are becoming more health conscious and looking to track their activity levels. With the NHS recommending we walk 10,000 steps each day to improve our health (NHS, 2014) these devices help us to self-monitor and improve our health and reach such targets.

In 2014 the major competitors were Fitbit and JawBone (Lamkin, 2014), this is no longer the case with new brands and devices entering the market. The number of differenct devices available is highlighted in recent surveys into the top sellers by Which? see figure 7 (Which.co.uk, 2016) and TechAdvisor Test Centre see figure 3 (Martin, 2016) which each rating a different model as the top device. However reviews and comparisons are not always focused on each consumers needs, Bethany Gordon visually displays more ratings and findings, TopTenReviews, see figure 5; it is clear here to see that one device does not perform top in all tests. This is also the case in a review by Evenson, which states ‘no single specific tracker had a complete assessment across their five measures’ (Evenson et al, 2015). This indicates how difficult it is for consumers to choose a device, tracking can range from basic steps, sleep patterns to heart monitoring. Brands continue to add more functions; this can be seen by the development of the Fitbit range (Jary, 2016), but is this enough as consumers look for more personalized, customisable products? Consumers are looking to purchase a system to fit in with their lifestyle not just a wearable device where the user experience and user interface is extremely important. Users want to be informed of their progress easily they do not want to be challenged by accessibility and compatibility issues.

There is also the option to use smartphone apps to track activity i.e. Google Fit which turns a smartphone into a fitness tracker and has been found to be more accurate. ‘Fitness bands less accurate than smartphones in counting steps – fitness bands incorrectly estimate number of steps by up to 22.7% while phones get it wrong by 6.7% (Johnston, 2015). This together with the introduction of smart watches, which include activity-tracking functions, this brings not only more choice but also more confusion for consumers.

The notion of tracking activity to promote health is motivating and moving people in the right direction however (The NPD Group, 2015) found ‘about 40% of wearers trackers stop using them within 6 months’ which implies this could be seen as a fad and tracking exercise is not enough. In January 2016 Dick Costolo the former chief executive of Twitter announced he is working on a new project, see figure 6 (LaMagna, 2016) he stated “the new platform will go beyond measurement to motivate and drive improvement. The fitness industry is transitioning to a world of specialized studios and programs with a multitude of connected devices and software trackers”. Fitbit CEO James Park discussed

‘a big theme for them is going to be the inclusion of more advanced sensors. In the future what we want to do is get to the point

where not only are we addressing lifestyle conditions but more chromic conditions as well, whether it’s heart disease,

obesity, etc.‘ (Metz, 2016).

Choi also suggests this ‘in the future there may be a less invasive way to obtain valuable information about a person’s health – wearable sweat sensors could track your health’ (Choi, 2016). With more data and more data being recorded security issues are a concern which consumers should be aware. Research by Open Effect suggests ‘that users can be surreptitiously tracked over long periods of time, together with further security issues’ (Prince, 2016). While security as always is an issue my research suggests the future holds more specialised and personalized tracking and the devices worn today maybe seen as primitive in another decade. My research suggests while consumers looking to improve their health will continue to look for ways to track their activity; niche audiences will develop to look for specific wearable tracking technology related to individual health needs as with the sweat sensors (Choi, 2016) which can track levels of glucose.

Fitness tracking devices are great tools for motivation, results can be seen quickly without having to wait to see our bodies change and the loss of weight. Being able to monitor our own fitness looks to be increasing the appeal however they will not be for everyone. Whilst the Fitbit Charge is rated top in two out of the three surveys in my research it is clear that there isn’t one fitness tracker that ‘fits all’. It is based on the individual consumer and what they are looking for as to which one fits their needs, whether that be step counting, calorie counting etc.

From my research fitness activity tracking technology is being developed further to track and monitor specific health issues which can only be thought of as a positive move. Not too long ago we may have owned a mobile phone and an mp3 player or an iPod; today all these technologies are combined in a smartphone or tablet. In the future more data will be combined on devices and platforms to constantly inform us of our health and other tracked information. It will be down to consumers individually to decide what to switch off and what they want to view to avoid being bombarded and possibly overwhelmed.   Consumers have more power than ever before and the user experience and user interface of any new products combined with functionality and connectivity will be major factors in a products success. This is an exciting time for this evolving technology and the idea that the nations health will be improved can be thought of as an achievement alone.

 

Bibliography

Choi, (2016) Wearable Sweat Sensors Could Track Your Health [Online] Available at http://www.livescience.com/53499-wearable-sweat-sensors-track-health.html (Accessed on 23 March 2016)

Evenson, K. R., Goto, M. M., Furberg, R. D. (2015) ‘Systematic review of the validity and reliability of consumer-wearable activity trackers’ [Online]. Available at http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/66/art%253A10.1186%252Fs12966-015-0314-1.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fijbnpa.biomedcentral.com (Accesed 27 March 2016)

Jary, S (2016) Which Fitbit is best to buy? Fitbit Range [Online] Available at http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/gadget/which-fitbit-is-best-buy-3501231/ (Accessed 28 March 2016)

Johnston, C. (2015) Fitness bands ‘less accurate than smartphones’ in counting steps [Online] Available at (http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/11/fitness-bands-less-accurate-than-smartphones-counting-steps) (Accessed 26 March 2016)

LaMagna, (2016) Have we reached peak FitBit? [Online] Available at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/are-fitness-trackers-a-fad-2016-01-26 (Accessed 25 March 2016)

Lamkin, (2014) Fitbit Flex v Jawbone UP24: what fitness band is right for you? [Online] Available at http://www.wareable.com/fitness-trackers/fitbit-flex-v-jawbone-up24-best-fitness-band) (Accessed 25 March 2016)

Martin, (2016). The best fitness trackers & fitness bands you can buy in the UK today. [online] PC Advisor. Available at: http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/test-centre/wearable-tech/best-activity-trackers-2016-uk-summary-3498368/ [Accessed 15 May 2016].

Metz, R. (2016) Fitbit CEO on Wearble Gadgets the Future of Sensors, and Wall Street [Online] Available at https://www.technologyreview.com/s/545271/fitbit-ceo-on-wearable-gadgets-the-future-of-sensors-and-wall-street/ (Accessed 24 March 2016)

Mintel, (2015) Wearable Technology UK, December 2015 [Online] [Accessed 10 March 2016] http://academic.mintel.com

NHS (2014) Walking for health [Online]. Available at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/getting-started-guides/Pages/getting-started-walking.aspx (Accessed 26 March 2016)

Prince, R. (2016) Almost every fitness tracker on the market leaves their users at risk of ‘long-term tracking of their location’ [Online] Available at http://uk.businessinsider.com/major-privacy-issues-in-almost-every-fitness-tracker-report-2016-2 (Accessed 28 March 2016)

Statista, (2016) Number of health and fitness wearable devices and app users in the United Kingdom (UK) for 2014 and 2015 [Online] Available at http://www.statista.com/statistics/407640/number-of-health-and-fitness-wearable-devices-and-app-users-in-the-uk/ (Accessed 28 March 2016)

The British School in Toyko, (2012) Are You Still On Target For Your Daily 10,000 This January?[Blog]. Available at http://www.bst.ac.jp/principalsblog/category/topical-news/ (Accessed 26 March 2016)

The NPD Group, (2015) U.S. Smartwatch Ownership Poised to Catch Up With, and Potentially Surpass, Activity Trackers, According to The NPD Group [Online]. Available at https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2015/us-smartwatch-ownership-poised-to-catch-up-with-and-potentially-surpass-activity-trackers-according-to-the-npd-group/ (Accessed 24 March 2016)

Which.co.uk. (2016). Fitness tracker reviews – Which?. [online] Available at: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fitness-trackers?source_code=911CQJ&_$ja=tsid:57182&gclid=CK2VqI3G48sCFUa4GwodpGcKcA (Accessed 15 May 2016).

 

Figure 1: Statista 2016, Number of health and fitness wearable devices and app suers in the United Kingdon (UK) for 2014 and 2015 [Online]

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Figure 2: The Manpo-Meter, The British School in Tokyo, 2012 [Online]

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Figure 3: Which Fitbit is best: features, TechAdvisor [Online]

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Figure 4: A Decade of Fitness Activity Trackers

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Figure 5: Fitness Tracking Review – TopTenReviews Bethany Gordon [Online]

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Figure 6: Fitness Tracking – A New Platform

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Figure 7: Ratings

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