I continued to be perplexed as to why certain tech and fitness futurists and periodicals continue to tout wearables as another “next year ” 🙂 trend in fitness. In my research, study after study shows existing wearables have less of an impact on actual fitness than what is being perpetually stated in the mainstream media. Despite the buzz surrounding the recent Google acquisition of Fitbit, I will outline below why I believe the future of fitness tied to wearables still has not arrived just yet.
Existing Scientific Research on Fitness Trackers
Dr Nicky Ridgers, from Australia Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), says the current craze of fitness trackers is nothing new. ‘It could be argued that many activity trackers are just modern pedometers; the first of which was reportedly created in the 1700s.’
So does wearing one motivate you to exercise more? ‘There is little evidence in adolescent populations that activity trackers increase activity levels. In adults the findings are mixed.’ ‘Our research with adolescents has suggested that interest in the device drops after about two weeks,’ Dr Ridgers says.
Anne Thorndike, an assistant professor of medicine at the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, has researched activity trackers using them on medical school residents over a 12-week period. While her study has not yet been published, she says there’s some early evidence of real fatigue; that is, people find the feedback motivating at first but less so over time after the device has lost its novelty. Let’s wait and see what her final results yield.
In fact, similar to the Deakin study, Thorndike worries that the feedback on activity levels can actually demotivate users. “If you’ve set yourself a goal, and the wristband is telling you every time you look at it that you haven’t reached that benchmark, you may eventually just take the thing off.” A study in the Journal of the American Medical Associationfurther confirms the Ridgers and Thorndike research and found subjects without fitness trackers lost more weight than those wearing them.
Not a fan of scientific research?
Then one only has to look at Jawbone, once a viable competitor to Fitbit. During its heyday Jawbone raised nearly a billion from investors, and according to Pitchbook, reached a peak valuation of $3 billion four years ago. Its eventual collapse served as a two-fold warning: the dangers of over expansion, and the limitations of activity trackers within the digital fitness market.
Need more financial capital markets proof?
Recently Google acquired Fitbit for a valuation of $2.1 billion.Fitbit’s all time high valuation of $10 billion was in 2015. Quite a steep drop in a little over 4 years. I believe Apple entering in the market and the lack of interest in basic fitness trackers accelerated the collapse. With the Apple Watch being supported by the global power of the Apple brand, I believe the purchase of the watch is more of a status symbol must have versus buying the product for just its fitness tracking capabilities.
The Apple Watch is likely to stay the world’s number one wearable device for years to come in terms of capabilities and popularity. However, looking at all Apple communication in aggregate, I would suggest Apple is not really focused on fitness but actually the health aspects of the device. For years, Apple has been working on including next-generation monitoring for blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring. According to CNBC’s Christina Farr, Apple is launching a new app in late November, dubbed Research, for consumers to sign up for up to three new medical studies focusing on heart, movement and hearing issues, and on women’s health.
Apple has several major efforts underway in health including its Apple Watch, which monitors heart health and movement, to its employee health clinics. It has hired dozens of doctors as it systematically moves into the $3.5 trillion medical sector. CEO Tim Cook has gone as far as to say that it could be the company’s “greatest contribution” to mankind.
I do believe however fitness trackers are here to stay and with the evolution of AI and machine learning, it should allow for data to be customized to each individual person with real and tangible actionable items for that person to improve their wellness. The Polar Vantage, Polar’s flagship sports watches, recently received some hefty updates, mainly focusing on sleep and recovery, breaking down your sleep into REM, light and deep, while also giving you a look at how well your body has recovered from the day before. I believe Google is going to institute some major technological upgrades to Fitbit to reveal more robust and additive features that they hope will make it a more appealing consumer alternative than the Apple or Garmin wearable products.
Jean-Michel Fournier is the CEO of Les Mills Media. Les Mills Media is a subsidiary of Les Mills International. For the past 50 years Les Mills have been creating life-changing fitness experiences by curating the best combination of music and moves with some of the most influential instructors in the world. All of Les Mills workouts are all powered by science, constantly tested and updated, and delivered by 140,000 certified instructors in 20,000 clubs across 100 countries.