It’s the end of the line for the fitness band

Features ed Dan Sung says it's time for wearables to move on
End of the line for fitness bands

Today, I took off my fitness band. It will not be going back on. It looks ok. It basically works but, after months of wearing it religiously, it really has nothing left to say. I’m over it and, by the end of the year, the rest of the world will be too.

Do you know how many steps you take each day? I do. It’s about the same number as you took this time last week. The only way you’re going to get that to change is by deciding to walk your 5-mile commute to work instead of driving or taking the bus like a normal person, or by inventing reasons to nip out of the shops, or, worse still, by pacing up and down your street until you hit that magic 10,000; and the novelty of that virtual achievement wears off.

I don’t walk 10,000 steps each day, and I’m proud. I probably average above 5,000 and that’s enough to prove that I’m not leading an unhealthy sedentary existence.

So, what else does this carefully moulded rubber bangle do? It tells me something that I already know - that I can sleep. Sometimes I sleep quite a lot; sometimes I don’t. When I have a drink, my sleep is less efficient but, whatever the case, there’s not much I can do about it, and there’s little advice the app’s giving me on the matter anyway. The companies that make them know it too.

Take a look at the figures and fitness bands might seem like they’re on a high but, mark my words, these are the last thrashes of life. Fitness and activity trackers made up the bulk of the 1 million wearables sold in the UK at Christmas, and rightly so. They’re affordable, they’re fashionable, they’re healthy and they’re kind of fun. In their current guise, however, they’re also mostly useless.

A quick look at the new fitness bands released either towards the end of last year, or at the CES tech trade show in January, and you’ll start to notice that they’re all adding new functionality to justify their existence. They’re including screens, GPS, heart-rate monitors, smartphone notifications and they’re able to tell the time too. In fact, they’re becoming smartwatches.

Whether it’s the fully-featured Fitbits Surge and Charge, the E Ink display on the Lenovo Vibe Band VB10, the Garmin Vivofit 2 with its Signature Series, or the likes of Polar A300 or Withings Activité Pop, which have ditched the form factor altogether, no one wants to be a band any more. The only company looking to stick is Jawbone with the, admittedly attractive and well-specced, UP3 - if it ever gets released that is.

With a host of pattern finishes, colours and designs - courtesy of designer Yves Béhar - Jawbone has gone down the route of adding a blend of new functionality and physical appeal that it hopes will be enough to make users want to keep a band on longer than I did. It might work but it’s a tough sell against a range of fitness trackers in the guise of more and more appealing watch and jewellery form factors often with designer names behind them or increasingly chic bodies all of their own. Even if you grow weary of the data on these dream machines, at least they tell the time.

The Apple Watch is another very obvious fly in the fitness band ointment. You don’t need to be a business analyst to figure out that its Spring 2015 launch is going to turn a whole lot of heads and wallets towards the smartwatch form factor, especially given its very decent exercise and health credentials. A better and more attractive range of Android Wear options is going to take a bite too, as is the expected price drop predicted by Gartner where smartwatches could start at as little as $30 in 2015. Why buy a band when you can pay less for more?

Well, the very obvious, and only, answer to that is that people may not want to. They might already own a watch that they love or they might not want to wear a timepiece at all. Fair enough. So, the Gartner report goes on to predict that there might be something of a resurgence in bands at a later date because companies and services might start using them for reasons other than fitness such as for access to computers, buildings, print credits or even to your funds as we’ve seen with Barclaycard’s bPay vision.

If, indeed, that does happen, as I say though, it will only be the last wagging of the tail before the real technology stands up. Smartwatch apps can take on those access credentials as well as a more meaningful version of health and fitness tracking and the expected 26 million unit sale of smart clothing in 2016 will be far more effective, invisible and appealing than bands as our health, fitness, exercise and medical modes of the future. Trackers will live on just not as rubber round your wrist.

So, sure, fitness bands were big at Christmas but so was Mr Blobby once. I’ve taken mine off. How long before you do too?

4 Comments

  • Knowledge says:

    I don't think you can make this argument for everyone.

    I've been wearing a fitness tracker for nearly 8 weeks now (The Fitbit Surge). I've lost 35 lbs in that time and continuing to lose more. Syncing my Fitbit Aria to my Fitbit dashboard is awesome as I get daily weight and body fat measurements synced in my account. I push myself every day to get more steps. I make sure I eat less calories than my Fitbit says I burned, and usually my weight loss corresponds pretty well to the calorie deficit my Fitbit says I had.

    Yes it means I have to log my food intake every day. But this information is valuable for me and without the Fitbit it would be a harder climb and less motivating.

    I agree that the general public may not find interest in these trackers, but they're powerful tools for health if used properly and with the proper mindset. The data is only as good as what you do with it. If you lose interest by reaching a step goal than these trackers aren't for you. For me they motivate me to take the extra steps and use the stairs over the elevators. For that reason alone they are worth every penny.

    • dansung says:

      That's fantastic that you've lost so much weight in that time and I'm glad to see that the Surge is working for you. Like you say, I think fitness trackers can be incredibly motivating. It's really the form that they're taking at the moment that I question. The wrist is some valuable real estate. I'd be interested to hear how you feel about the idea of a fitness band once you're comfortably achieved your target weight and lifestyle.

  • sidneyarepp says:

    I think in general fitness trackers aren't dying, they're just evolving and segregating.  Think about it this way; when computers first went mainstream there were just desktop computers.  Now there are desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.  All of those options essentially do the same thing, just in a different way.  There will always be markets for bands with great sensors that don't have smart watch functionality.

  • rocteur says:

    And did anyone actually want to know all this waddle ?

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