Where did wearables go wrong?
Futurists promised a "wearable computing" world in which you could buy gadgets that could perform a thousand functions and live anywhere on your body.
Instead, the vast majority of wearables are biometric wristwatches, measuring mostly heart rate and bodily movement. The top-selling wearables come from Fitbit, Apple, Xiaomi, Garmin and Samsung -- all watches that measure movement and heart rate.
The overwhelming predominance of fitness watches is problematic in four ways that hardly anybody talks about.
1. You can wear only one. If you're inclined to own a smartwatch, you already have one. Your wrist is taken. So the hundreds of new smartwatches on the market are unusable and irrelevant to you as a consumer.
2. Wrist-worn biometrics don't work well. The most heavily touted feature is heart rate monitoring. A JAMA Cardiology study found that the Apple Watch is the most accurate heart rate monitor among the popular fitness wearables they tested, and its accuracy was only around 90%. Others grouped into the low 80% range, according to the report. (No watch comes close to the accuracy of chest straps for heart rate monitoring because they can track the heart's electrical activity, which suggests a promising future for heart-rate-monitoring sports bras for women.)
3. Fitness watches don't boost fitness. Separate from the inaccuracy of wrist-based heart rate monitoring, the general idea of using biometrics to boost fitness probably doesn't work for most users. Take weight loss, for example. A two-year clinical trial conducted at the University of Pittsburgh put hundreds of people on a behavioral weight loss program. Half the participants were given consumer fitness wearables. But the group without wearables lost more weight. (My guess is that fitness trackers tend to make you feel like you're getting more exercise than you're really getting.)
4. People lose interest in fitness watches. More than half the fitness wearables purchased end up in a junk drawer, according to a survey by Endeavour Partners.
(Over the next two years, that situation will improve with the entry of choice in smartglasses and hearables.)
Despite all this, biometric-capable smartwatches get most of the wearables attention, and most of the sales.
But what about those of us who aren't in the market for another wristwatch, and already have a way (or don't want) to track our heart rate or movement? Are there any interesting consumer wearables beyond biometric fitness watches -- and glasses and earbuds, for that matter?
Turns out the answer is: Yes!
Here's the world of innovative wearables you never hear about that don't go on your wrist, face or ears and which don't primarily track biometrics.
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