Activity trackers do a lot of things incredibly well. They raise awareness of levels of physical activity, they allow you to track progress and achievements, they provide social motivation and rewards, and they have a lot of top-of-the-line technology that can be illuminating and fun to play with. Where they sorely lack, however, is the implementation of this information to encourage long-term, positive, effective exercise behavior. Looking at your resting heart rate as you spend an entire day on the couch watching TV can only be so much fun. Without helping you develop an exercise habit, it’s just a reminder that you once tried to become active, and spent a lot of money in that effort.
A comparison that I like is the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. They invest tons of resources on sports nutrition, training and performance, and physiology. Just look on their website (Link)—they have over 240 papers that they either conducted or funded. You can read about “Normative data for regional sweat sodium concentration and whole-body sweating rate in athletes,” or “Acute effects of dietary constituents on motor skill and cognitive performance in athletes.” Are they doing this research to help them sell more sugar water? No. It’s because they understand that in order to remain at the peak of their industry, they need to push the boundaries of what’s being studied, learning new information about how the body works. They stay at the forefront of the field in order to remain relevant. And that is what fitness tracking companies need to realize.
They need to be the ones pushing the boundaries of their field, doing innovative research to improve the product that they offer. Not just putting new sensors in it, but developing a technology that will help you start exercising, and keep exercising. There is already so much research on behavior change, exercise motivation, efficacy, and other important information that can inform the future of the industry. That said, research into how technology intersects with these topics is nearly non-existent. The academic community is beginning to develop lines of research about fitness tech, but the onus falls on these companies.
If companies like Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit, etc., are going to achieve their stated goals of helping people live happier, healthier, and more active lives, they need to help the implementation catch up with the technology. They need to focus research on how their products can best be utilized to help people get, and remain, active. If not, they risk continuing to lose a third of users within six months, and remain a novelty-- except to those who have enough experience to know how to use them.
Fitbit Stock Drops Below IPO Price For First Time Ever. (2016, January 11). Retrieved January 14, 2016, from http://time.com/4175743/fitbit-price-low-stock/
Ledger, D. Endeavour Partners. (2014). Inside Wearables, Part 2: A look at the uncertain future of smart wearable devices, and five industry developments that will be necessary for meaningful mass market adaptation and sustained engagement. Cambridge, Massachusets