Are wearable fitness trackers a fad or are they gaining traction? A glance at the wrists of people I meet at gatherings from foodie dinners to business meetings show that many people have already adopted a Fitbit fitness band or Nike FuelBand. But what will the future bring in 2015 and beyond?
Wearables.com and the Center for Generational Kinetics surveyed over 1000 Americans to see if and why they would wear a fitness tracker or other wearable tech. They confirmed that 78% of them said they would use an activity tracker. The younger generation of Millennials are more likely to own a wearable activity tracker, with 89% of them saying they plan to own one, vs. 69% of non-millennials. That’s a big market, especially because the survey was conducted before the announcement of the Apple Watch.
Reasons to Use an Activity Tracker
The reasons given for using an activity tracker were:
- 47% to lose weight
- 47% to achieve a fitness goal
- 44% to keep weight off
- 34% to lower their health insurance rate
What they Want in an Activity Tracker
- 45% Comfortable to wear: it’s no surprise that wearables must be easy to wear. Something that is clunky or irritating is especially a problem when worn for workouts or to track all-day activity and sleep.
- 38% Accuracy: I’ve discarded many devices whose data I simply didn’t trust. If you can’t believe the readings, you soon stop wearing it.
- 38% Water-resistance: A wearable that can’t get wet won’t fit into an all-day, all-night lifestyle.
- 15% Ability to utilize voice commands: Now that we have Siri for our phones, it’s not too much to ask for it from our activity trackers. Getting a reading without having to read it would be convenient.
- 53% Heads-up display for navigation whether walking, cycling or driving: Now that most jurisdictions only allow hands-free use of mobile devices while driving, having a heads-up display with smart glasses would allow you to use it safely.
- 33% Fashionable jewelry: Camouflaging a wearable as a piece of jewelry or a designer watch would appeal to many people. The Misfit Shine is an example of an attractive wearable.
- More: Study and Infographic at Wearables.com
Where Wearables are Going for 2015
Luis Rincon, CEO of Wearables.com gave me his insight on where the market for wearables is headed for the near future.
Q: Do you think smartwatches with activity tracking will cause a big drop in sales of fitness bands?
Rincon: For now, less a drop in sales than a drop in prices. Right now smartwatches average about $250-260 retail price, though the Apple Watch will definitely sell at a premium at $350 (starting price point). Many smartwatches will have activity monitoring capabilities, so mass market/general consumer activity trackers will need to separate themselves in price point as much as possible (think Fitbit, Misfit, Jawbone, etc.).
This is already visible in Misfit Wearables coming out with a $50 fitness tracker called the Flash, that just about mimics its $100 Shine. Pebble (smartwatch) has also dropped the price points of both its products to create a differentiation point from the more costly Moto 360, LG G, and of course the Apple Watch. Also, besides the Pebble, smartwatches suffer from terrible battery life, something that a cheaper general activity tracker (e.g., the Jawbone UP24) doesn’t and they can use as selling points.
There will always be interest for niche activity tracking devices (niche in market or in application). I do believe smartwatches will eat some market share from general/mass consumer fitness bands in the long run.
Q: What is your opinion on Fitbit’s decision not to play nice with Apple’s HealthKit, and instead be a competitor with the Apple Watch?
Rincon: It’s quite interesting, though ultimately if Apple’s user base grows, and so does its developer ecosystem for WatchKit, Fitbit may have no choice but to integrate. Right now the HealthKit user base is likely small enough to not truly matter (not for long though). Also, Apple is more likely to feature apps for companies that play nice with them. Fitbit claims to have many non-iOS users that it wants to account for, but ultimately I also believe its because they are building competing products.
Apple showcased the Fitbit during its September event so I am sure they were expecting more cooperation. Apple pulling Fitbit products from its store also shows the growing competitive rift between the two companies. Fitbit owns the lion’s share in mass consumer activity trackers (ever had to explain what an activity tracker is? You end up saying “like a fitbit.”), so if anyone could compete on the activity tracker level its likely them.
However, smartwatches will be a different ball game. There is an interesting movement in getting away from the “smartwatch” (connected device) aspect and calling them “fitness watches” or “wellness watches,” which as visible from Fitbit’s new Surge product page. Intel’s Basis Peak also shows another company going for the higher-end quantified-self market. The Android market is large, and presents a great opportunity for Fitbit and Peak.
Q: Fitbit appears to be going for the running market with its GPS watch while Garmin introduced the Vivofit and Vivosmart for the daily activity market. Do you think more manufacturers are going towards the whole activity market, or will we see gadgets aimed at specific sports/activities?
Rincon: We are already seeing companies take aim at niche markets: action sports/extreme athletes, endurance training, gym/weight training, etc. The last of those is likely the one with most startups going after it, in form factors such as wrist-worn trackers, chest straps, and smart clothing. One market that I feel has been somewhat under-appreciated is the aging population market (requiring unique form factors such as ease of putting on device, larger fonts on displays, etc.). I think the larger companies will take aim at the mass consumer activity tracker market (Samsung, Apple, Sony, etc.), along with those already established in the space (Fitbit, Jawbone, Polar, etc.). I am excited to see what new form factors come out across both niche and mass markets, such as the Bragi Dash earbuds that act as in-ear microphones, activity trackers, and audio devices.
Q: I have years of activity data with both Fitbit and Nike FuelBand, so I want that to continue with any new wearable. How will customer loyalty factor into the wearable market as smartwatches debut?
Rincon: This is a great question! Device companies clearly have a vested interest in you not jumping from their system to the next, but will allow you to maintain your data in their app regardless of which their devices you use. A few startups are attempting to put the power in the consumers’ hands by creating data repositories so that they can move more freely from one wearable to the next, but ultimately they are at the mercy of the device companies allowing them continued access to their APIs. Customer loyalty will be of massive importance, not just in the hardware sense, but also from a data standpoint.
Q: Will multi-platform fitness trackers be the winners? Such as Jawbone UP, which has its own band, plus a smartphone app, plus a Pebble watch app and presumably will also have an Apple watch app. Nike FuelBand is going that direction, too.
Rincon: In the mass consumer health & fitness market, what really matters are the users on your platform and the data you are creating from it. The hardware will in many aspects become commoditized. Ultimately I could see the larger players buying out the smaller players who have developed strong algorithms that better recognize and aggregate user data, and perhaps even just shutting down their hardware efforts. Nike was not a hardware company and its first foray into wearables was with Apple, so that move was not entirely unexpected. I still believe activity trackers will always exist (though cheaper and smaller), as not everyone wants to wear a watch. But acquiring users across multiple devices and platforms is clearly the best strategy for now.
Q: Are there wearables coming that will be smartphone-independent for sending texts/voice calls? It seems like a lot of money to spend for a smartwatch or wearable that can only receive /alert with caller ID. When will we get to the Star Trek badge ideal for a wearable?
Rincon: Haha I love the Star Trek reference. The first wearable to attract a lot of attention as a standalone device is Will.i.am’s i.amPULS announced this month at Salesforce’s Dreamforce event. The standalone GPS is a huge differentiator from the Apple Watch (that, battery life, and price point have been the biggest complaints I’ve heard so far on the Apple Watch). However, I still think brands are waiting to see if consumers want to make calls from their wrists (something I do not personally appreciate). We will see new user cases arise, such as checking in and paying for items via smartwatches, before we see entirely standalone devices become the standard.
Buy Now or Save Your Money for a Smartwatch?
It sounds like the biggest choice consumers have to make is whether to save for a smartwatch or decide that a less-expensive fitness tracker will suit their needs and goals. Why not just use a pedometer app on your smartphone and avoid any extra investment? It will pay off for health and fitness to get in the game at whatever price point suits your wallet.