tech trends

What’s Next for Fitness Trackers?

January 29, 2015
by Sophie Spiers

For a long time, I knew the Fitbit as an electronic device that my roommate wore and that I would ask after occasionally.

“So, how’s your Fitbit doing?” I would ask, as if it were some sort of pet or needy child.

The Fitbit was a mystery to me. What did it do? Was it helpful? Would it actually encourage me to exercise, or would it be another device thrown under my bed and forgotten? And then, Santa decided to bestow upon me the wearable device of the hour: the Fitbit Flex. Eager to join the wearables conversation from a first-hand perspective, I got to using mine right away. Thanks to my Fitbit, I am well aware of the fact that I’ve only taken twenty steps today. Lucky for me, my device cannot recognize the purpose of those steps (which spanned from my couch to the fridge).

In all seriousness, though, Fitbit is helping to keep me conscious of my own habits. But, as the wearable device market continues to expand, these consumer health trackers may need to consider improvements to stay relevant. The average wearable is abandoned after 6 months.

While interning at Continuum, I’ve been witnessing lots of internal dialog around wearable devices, and brainstorming innovative ways to enhance the user experience around them. With so many wearables on the market, companies are more pressed than ever to differentiate themselves.

I’ve been thinking about ways fitness trackers can evolve to stay relevant in a competitive market.

First, what if our wearables were true fashion statements? As we see Tory Burch, Ray Ban, Swarovski, and others offer high-end options for device customization, our tech devices are operating at the intersection of fashion and function. But we’ve also observed users discuss their adoption of a device as driven by the sense of community they get by wearing something that looks like a product their friends have.

Customization could address this challenge without forcing device manufacturers to look to outside partners for fashionable add-ons. Allowing users to monogram their devices, or to have inspirational quotes inscribed on them, might be ways to again enhance emotional and aesthetic appeal, without straying too far from a device’s signature look.

If part of committing to your fitness tracker included designing an accessory, perhaps the device would feel less like a wearable and more like a health-connected opportunity for expression.

It’s also worth considering how these devices can encourage communities. Fitbit’s current outreach technique, for example, is built on competition. Throughout the day, users can challenge up to ten people and compete in various contests; the “Weekend Warrior,” the “Daily Showdown,” and the “Workweek Hustle” track users’ steps and pit them against fellow users. People can see each others’ profile photos, messages, total steps, progress and achievements. Companies are starting to see value in building communities based on competition.

But, how effective is pure competition? Are competitive stats too impersonal to be effective?

There may be something to be said for social rewards.

What if each time a user reached a personal goal, an alert popped up notifying friends and giving them an opportunity to “Congratulate Sophie”? Fitness trackers who have built competitive communities could then pull from each user’s profile and interests to recommend an activity for them to do together in celebration. Weaving social interaction into the numbers game might provide more emotional appeal, which could lead to more rewarding and consistent user experiences—and more direct interpersonal connections.

Another way to promote emotional appeal over gameification might be to create user experience story videos or visual timelines. Much like Facebook timelines, which chronicle a user’s linear life experience, these could compile visuals that would represent a user’s journey toward a goal. Users could then share their stories with their networks, again reinforcing a wearable device company’s social take on active living. Think of the highlight reels from your year on Instagram, or the satisfaction you feel when you’ve built out a board on Pinterest.

As someone who was slow to join the Fitbit club, I’m still getting used to my base model device. But one way to make my connected product more meaningful might be to help me feel personally engaged with it, and also the community around me.

If all goes well with our relationship, I, too, will be looking for “the next best thing” from my FitBit.

Shouldn’t they—and other wearable fitness tracking manufacturers—be doing the same?

filed in: tech trends, healthcare