Fitness trackers could be this year's gift everyone gets but doesn't use

26 November 2015 by Steve Blum
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It has wrists, but does it it have legs?

The fitness tracker category is going to huge this holiday season. It’s hard to go to a meeting without seeing a Fitbit or a similar bracelet on the trendiest wrists in the room.

Most people seem to use the devices for step counting, to reassure themselves that their normal daily activity is an adequate workout. It’s useful feedback, and a lot of people seem to be altering their routine to maximise steps. Some companies have incorporated fitness trackers into corporate wellness programs, and that’s positive too. When a product becomes ubiquitous, it also becomes a default gift for the hard-to-buy-for.

The real question is whether this is a typical fitness fad, like office treadmills or boot camp workouts, or if it represents a long term change in fitness awareness and proactive health management.

At this stage, it appears to be the latter. From my personal – and not statistically valid – observations, actual usage has a half life of two or three months at best. A fitness tracker might appear on someone’s wrist, but it’s gone within a few weeks or months. Any fashionable workout routine, however benign, loses its novelty value and simply becomes another chore.

There’s one technological improvement that could change the equation, though, and that’s longer battery life. If the tracker is something you have to remove periodically to recharge, then the odds are high that sooner or later you’ll just leave behind for good one day. On the other hand, if you can put it on your wrist and forget about it for two or three years, like a wristwatch, then the case for long term adoption and usage will be a lot better.