Meaningful fitness tracker data is finally on the agenda

It’s refreshing to hear companies putting a greater emphasis on software
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"I personally believe that we have just finished seeing the first generation of wearables and are about to enter the 'what's next' phase." Those were the words of Mike Lee, chief digital officer at Under Armour, expressing his feelings on the current state of wearable tech.

According to Lee, that "what's next" phase will involve not only moving sensors into apparel you already own, but also about bringing value to the data users record when they strap on a fitness tracker. Speaking at Web Summit, Lee wasn't alone in speaking up on why it's time to talk more about what is happening with our data, and that's definitely a good thing.

Read this: The best fitness trackers to buy

Making my way around the various stages taking in talks on making devices more intelligent, or listening in on Fossil's Sonny Vu's thoughts on the evolution of wearable tech, the importance of delivering truly insightful data remained a recurring theme. TomTom co-founder Corinne Vigreux spoke about "hardware as a data collector, collecting data about yourself," looking beyond its wearable push and thinking ahead to building the ecosystem.

Now TomTom isn't exactly the best example of showcasing how this ecosystem should look like, but it's refreshing to hear about a movement beyond a fitness tracker that merely counts steps or logs our sleep. It feels like it has taken us a long time to get to this point where companies feel it's no longer acceptable just to simply count steps or log sleep.

We've praised companies like Jawbone in the past for their attempts to bring more meaning to our data. As a fading force though, it's time for the big guns to step up and deliver as well. I'm primarily looking at Fitbit here but that could similarly apply to the likes of Garmin who, in its defence, is trying to do this with its Insights smart coaching. While Fitbit's decision to pay a little more attention to sleep data is a welcome move, it's far cry from the truly actionable data that will really make a difference and I'm sure Fitbit knows it has some to work to do on this front.

So what will be the key to delivering more meaningful data? All the most logical answers seem to lie with AI, another major talking point at Web Summit. Using machine learning to take that data and provide useful advice on how to stay healthy and in shape could be the answer. That's certainly the feeling I got listening in on a talk by Dr Rhee, chief health officer at IBM who is responsible for Watson Health. That's the same Watson Health integrated into Under Armour's Record app. Aside from Under Armour, Watson Health is already working with Apple with its ResearchKit and CareKit platforms, translating big data into key insights.

The former physician has some strong words for how fitness tracker data works right now and how AI will change this for the better. "It's a little bit of a disservice to folks when we provide goals that are not personalised to the individual's preferences", Rhee said.

"Take the example of trying to achieve 10,000 steps a day. If you've got an individual that has a multitude of medical issues that only does 3,000 steps a day, getting 10,000 steps in a day in a way is an unachievable goal."

It's difficult not to be sold on Rhee's belief in AI and the role it will play in making fitness tracker data more meaningful. My feeling is that artificial intelligence will be part of the solution, but what's more important here is that the role of data is now a bigger part of the fitness tracker discussion. Here's hoping that the major players in wearable tech realise that the "what's next" moment needs to start happening now.

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Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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