​Fitness trackers are in a race to the bottom

Cheap trackers are getting so good, why spend more?
The ​fitness tracker race to the bottom

Fitness trackers are facing a problem. It's not demand, that's still off-the-charts and shows no sign of abating. It's not devices – we have more than enough of those. The problem facing the fitness tracker market is a race to the bottom, that threatens their very existence.

Let me explain.

Over the last year we've seen the price of fitness trackers tumble. Cheaper devices always make their way into any established technology sector – just look at the smartwatch section of Amazon, which is positively brimming with tat.

But cheap fitness trackers are no longer terrible. Decent, useable devices are on offer for under $50. Withings and Jawbone have them, as well as a host of manufacturers you wouldn't expect.

Two cases in point: the obvious one is Xiaomi which is about to launch its third fitness tracker – the Xiaomi Mi Band 2 – which offers pretty much all the features of top end Fitbit and Garmin trackers for around $40.

And more surprisingly, we've been trying out the Archon Touch fitness tracker, which is a UK only release that costs just £30. While Xiaomi is a huge Chinese brand, the Archon band is perhaps the more impressive. Yeah, it looks dreadful with a sickeningly awful screen, but after a couple of weeks of wear it strands up pretty well. Boasting accurate data and a really nice app, it begs the question: is it really worth forking out for more for a Fitbit?

The Archon Touch fitness tracker surprises by not being terrible

The flip side is the Fitbit Alta. Selling in its droves (1 million shipped in the first three weeks on sale) thanks to Fitbit's brand power, every metric defines it as a roaring success. But when the Mi Band 2 lands on these shores, the story will be more features for a fifth of the price.

So why is this a problem?

Well, as the likes of Xiaomi and Archon get better, it starts to pressure the top end, and we're already seeing the results of that squeeze. While Fitbit is the big brand at the top, its natural competitor Jawbone is getting battered in the sales tables.

And there's already a features arms race happening to ward off the cheapo trackers.

The first tech escalation was heart rate, the preserve of the top end tracker. Well, Xiaomi already has that. The next is GPS, included on the latest Garmin and Samsung Gear Fit2 devices, but hasn't trickled down to the low end yet. Beyond that we're now seeing happiness, stress and advanced cardiovascular metrics appearing.

My concern that in the race to keep us paying top dollar for the next essential metric, quality of data will suffer. By tacking on the next sensor that will reveal the next piece of must-have data, the margins of accuracy could diminish.

We're already seeing question marks over the accuracy of optical heart rate monitors. But can the likes of Fitbit afford to perfect these over time, as competitors hawk out similar offerings at less than half the price?

Cheap fitness trackers are getting good – and could be a big problem for everyone.

3 Comments

  • MarkusP says:

    I can't see that problem you're pointing out. If I look at my forerunner 920xt with its poor software (just for example (only one alarm possible), no HR and really poor sleep track accuracy, then I really hope that the big manufacturers are coming under pressure, releasing better products to show that they are worth their price. 

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  • GetWellable says:

    Just take a look at the Q1 2016 wearable device shipments to see the race to the bottom.

    http://blog.wellable.co/2016/06/06/wearable-market...

    Xiaomi is slowly climbing up the ranks and is in 2nd place.  Once they enter western markets, they will likely take the top spot.

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