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Making fitness trackers last requires team effort

Brian Eastwood | Aug. 12, 2014
Roughly one in three consumers who starts using a fitness tracker stops using it within a year. Research from IDC says the top reason for device abandonment isn't battery life, comfort or functionality.

People Who Stop Using Fitness Trackers Can Help Make the Devices Better

Making sure people remain interested in the device itself will help a wellness program retain value over time. Insurers and employers alike understand that insight into daily activity can promote wellness and, in time, reduce insurance costs but with one-third of users abandoning fitness trackers, it's hard to justify the return on an investment in hundreds of delicate devices that can cost $200 apiece.

A separate IDC report, Why Consumers Stop Using Fitness Trackers, highlights more than a dozen reason that consumers abandon devices. Many of the complaints provide insight into what future generations of fitness trackers must do:

  • Comfort matters. Armbands can be bulky, and wristbands can cause rashes.
  • Looks matter, which is why Tory Birch is partnering with FitBit and luxury designers are considering smartwatch lines.
  • Accuracy matters. Poorly tuned accelerometers do little good. Same goes for devices that say someone lying in bed at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, is "asleep."
  • Open APIs matter. As users find new applications that help them achieve fitness goals and earn incentives, they'll want their fitness trackers to connect to those apps.
  • Battery life matters, as does the capability to easily recharge batteries.
  • Water resistance matters not just in the pool, mind you, but the washing machine, too.

The fitness tracker market remains volatile as well. There's been consolidation (with Intel buying Basis and Jawbone buying BodyMedia), entrances and exits (with Under Armour buying MapMyFitness and Nike scrapping the Fuelband) and new health platforms from Apple, Google, Samsung and WebMD.

You Can't Track What You Can't Measure

Until prices drop, form factors improve and device abandonment slows, IDC says pilot projects will be the norm for wellness programs. (The analyst firm expects this period to last 18 to 24 months.)

Another unanswered question concerns what physicians and clinicians will do with the data that fitness trackers generate. Interfaces are "not inconsequential," Dunbrack says. A physician asked to interact with multiple apps for multiple data points from multiple devices of dubious reliability may simply refuse, putting what could otherwise be valuable patient-generated data into yet another silo.

If nothing else, though, wearable tech represents a good start for improving health and wellness. As the saying goes, you can't track what you can't measure. The key, Dunbrack says, is continuing the education using rewards, coaching, social engagement and a variety of other incentives so that people keep strapping on the wristband, smartwatch, armband, earbud or glasses long after the "initial infatuation" has faded.


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