The problem with fitness trackers

By Justin Duino on 7 Jun 2014 09:13 am
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In today's world, fitness related businesses and products are growing like crazy. One of the larger trends seen in the mobile electronic market are fitness related products. While there were fitness bands like FitBit and a handful of useful health applications available for mobile devices, 2014 has been flooded with fitness related products compared to other years.

At the beginning of the year I attended CES 2014 and after spending a week looking at all of the new devices coming to the market, I knew that connected devices would be a huge hit. One thing that I did not see at the time was all of the fitness related technology that we have today except for a fitness band and a set of heart rate sensing ear buds from LG. All of this took place in the early part of January.

When February 24th rolled around, Samsung announced 4 new devices that I believe got the fitness trend rolling. These devices were the Samsung Galaxy S5, Gear 2, Gear Neo, and the Gear Fit. All four of these devices came loaded with a physical heart rate monitor built into the rear side of the device and had plenty of fitness related software built in to go along with it. This hardware addition seemed to come from nowhere but apparently it was a hit as new and current Samsung customers started to order these devices so that they would have access to the new additions.

Since Samsung announced this lineup of devices with fitness aspects baked in, other companies like LG, Huawei, and many others have come out with health centered devices. While I cannot confirm that all of these new devices have stemmed out of the Samsung announcement, I am more than confident that if Samsung had not let the way, we would not be where we are today.

So now comes the main point of this piece; do we really need all of these connected devices from every manufacturer under the sun. When I look at all of the competition out there, all I see are slight hardware differences or different user interfaces for the same technology. When it comes to all of the different fitness wear and trackers, does it really matter if it is branded to one company or another? To make it even worse, it seems like most of the new hardware is only compatible with select devices when older hardware like the FitBit are compatible to hundreds of devices and even work on different platforms.

LynxFit Glassware

Instead of companies trying to create their own look, I think we need to be looking to software developers to create applications that use the technology that is already out there. One application that has been highly successful on Google Glass is called LynxFit which was first created by a developer by the name of Noble Ackerson. LynxFit is Glassware that works as a personal fitness instructor that walks the user through different exercises in a way that was only possible beforehand with a real life person there with you.

My point to all of this is not to bash the fact that fitness has become such a huge trend in the mobile market recently but that if we are going to push it so much, we need to think differently. The world does not need a thousand more fitness bands or pedometers, we need more creative ways to use them. Companies like Samsung, LG, and now even Apple have their own health applications. Instead of all of these companies keeping their ecosystems closed so that only certain devices and applications work with their services, why not work together to make it so that any fitness tracking device works with as many phones as possible so that the user can spend more time finding software that they like. Just maybe if the user can spend less time trying to match their fitness tracker to their phone, they will be able to spend more time becoming fit by using the devices they own.

7 comments

snowdroid83

I doubt that will happen, manufacturers are more interested in tying people into their ecosystem to make more long term money from repeat purchases

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The Elusive Wordsmith

Precisely, it's a shame but ultimately they do just want to make money. Would be good if they could work together though - could get more varied and accurate results.

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VeniceBB

I think you make a great point and I totally agree with your point of view. I'd rather see companies like Samsung, Apple and BlackBerry make great great devices and making software that you can use with whatever fitness tracker you buy than see them make mediocre products that you can't even use with any other brand of phone.
Then again, as snowdroid83 says, it's unlikely to happen. These manufacturers see little else but dollar signs.

That being said, I think the companies that have a more directed focus on fitness trackers (Fitbit, Polar, Garmin) need to make sure they have working apps for all the largest ecosystems; not just iOS and Android but also BlackBerry and Windows Phone

terminatorx

As far as I am concerned, right now all these wristband fitness trackers (along with smartwatch hybrids combining health and cell phone functions) are still half baked. I have been reading quite a lot of reviews, as I am interested in getting a fitness tracker (primarily, one which looks fairly sleek and not too geeky/bulky). The main issues in my view with most all of these devices is having to recharge them every 5-6 days at best. Watches from 100 years ago lasted longer than that. The only fitness/smart device I found which has great reviews and a 1 year battery life, is the Garmin Vivofit. However, even this device apparently has major issues with the wristband coming loose and people losing it. For the price tag, that is simply unacceptable to me.

All the other popular devices I read about, like the Poar Loop and FitBit Flex, have some kind of issue. For example both of these only hold charges for a week, and while one provides a useful vibrate alarm to wake you up, the other doesn't. One doesn't tell time, the other does. One has no lcd readout, the other has a dot matrix type. The Vivofit has no alarm functions and you can't read the display at night, but it has a nice display features and is good at alerting about inactivity and motivating you, but the thing might fall off your hand. Samsung's devices look cool, but only work with Samsung phones. Are you serious? And just about all of them are way too expensive in my opinion.

Of all the devices I read about, the Garmin Vivofit is the most promising. But for the price of $129 ($150 in Canada) it's still much too expensive, especially for something with so many complaints about the strap coming loose and being unable to read the display at night.

Just my 2 cents. I'll wait another year, unless I see a good sale somewhere for the Vivofit, then I can justify the tradeoffs.

tigeryee

Pen and notebook still gets it down. I do understand that bringing a pen and paper to the gym is annoying too... What about just taking down a note in the phone on Evernote or Google Keep?

El Platanero

Yeah I just want it to work. I don't own one but I keep reading that the results never seem very accurate. I'm all for investing but if the info is incorrect then no thanks.

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deanlyoung

I think you've hit the nail on the head! With the introduction of HealthKit (and previously S Health on Samsung phones - particularly the GS5), we'll see a divergence in the market. Whereas hardware companies were previously getting into software to close the loop (and vice versa), these new SDKs on your central data hub (smartphone) will allow hardware to close the loop through partnerships with software/services companies who use the data to create rich experiences, and software companies will get access to data and more of it if the whole ecosystem becomes more open. However, it all depends on trust. If the hardware and software companies can't learn to play nice, then the whole ecosystem will crumble into many factions.

At lark.com, we're focusing on the user experience and interaction. There is a wealth of data out there, and from the smartphones themselves (look at the GS5, for example). We can create a rich experience from data that already exists on the phone itself.

I think we'll start to see many "wearables" that aren't only step and motion focused (although they are among the most basic sensors to include). With phones including motion sensors that don't eat away battery life, it becomes redundant to wear a wristband. It won't happen overnight, but that's the direction we're headed. As another example, the GS5 has a built-in heart rate sensor. What's next? Oximeter? Posture? etc. etc.