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Wearable technology is a term that has been trending ever since the first photos of Google Glass leaked to the public. Many companies such as Jawbone, Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit and Sony have since joined in by manufacturing fitness trackers in a variety of forms, but most typically as bracelets that sync to the users’ smartphones. Despite all the interest, no company has really been able to take the reins and become a household name representative of the wearable technology market.
Sports apparel juggernaut Nike recently laid off a large number of its team members from the FuelBand division and is showing signs of exiting the wearable tech segment altogether. This may be due, in part, to a difference in profitable business models than what Nike is used to. Wearable technology is a wholly different animal from marketing shoes and fitness apparel. “They are getting a lot of data and just do not know what to do with it,” said one source. “They could not exploit the market.”
On the other hand, Fitbit has found a sustainable business model in which large companies purchase their wearable devices in bulk and integrate them with corporate wellness programs that incentivize insurance companies to give lower premiums when employees are taking proactive measures to become healthier.
Another challenge that fitness wearable device companies face is that most smartphones have many of the same existing capabilities in place. There are apps that can record how many steps a user takes, how deep their REM sleep is, and how many calories they eat daily. To quote Apple’s Tim Cook from the D11 conference last year: “There are lots of gadgets in the space,” he said. “I would say that the ones that are doing more than one thing, there’s nothing great out there that I’ve seen… To convince people they have to wear something, it has to be incredible. If we asked a room of 20-year olds to stand up if they’re wearing a watch, I don’t think anyone would stand up.” This may be the reason that it has taken Apple so long to launch its presence in the wearable tech space. The iPhone continues to dominate the smartphone industry and Apple may be planning carefully to ensure it does the same for the health tracking industry.
Tech critics have often called fitness wearables just “glorified pedometers.” Sensor technology has existed since the 1980s and its latest evolution has been its smaller sizes and the ability to sync with smartphones to aggregate data into easy to read graphs and charts. At the end of the day, people may just want more value in the technology they invest in – after all they will have to wear these devices all the time. Perhaps consumers would find more value in a wearable device that tracks their blood sugar, blood pressure, and other specific health statistics to detect and prevent low glucose levels or even strokes. For wearable technology to have a real value proposition, they must provide functions that other devices, such as smartphones, simply can’t.
Do you wear any of the fitness trackers on the market? If so, we’d love to hear your experiences or opinions in the comments below.
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