18 Nov Fitness Wearables: Requires Approaching from Fitness Mindset

This blog was written by Brian Pitstick, a 17+ year marketing executive in the Fortune 500 technology market. He is currently a guest analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy where he writes about his passion for the emerging wearables market leveraging his strong background building innovative product solutions.  Brian was recently executive director at Dell corporation, where he headed up innovative and award winning consumer products like the Dell XPS 12/13/18,  Dell Inspiron Duo, and the Dell Streak 5.  You can find Brian’s biography here.

I believe everyone wants to live a healthy and fit life.  However, things get in the way to make this happen.  We are plagued in this world with record obesity levels and out of control healthcare costs.  Technology has the ability to impact this.  This is not to say that technology will be the magic pill.  Hard work and commitment will still be required.  However, new connected devices and analytics will provide people with new tools that will make it easier for them to achieve their goals.  To do this, companies need to build more advanced tracking capabilities that provide a more complete picture of their exercise activities and diet.  Finally, given we all seem to have limited time, these new tools need to provide intelligent recommendations that increase effectiveness and provide personal training advice on how to achieve our goals.  

AN INDUSTRY IN THE MIDST OF REVOLUTION

As a long-time executive professional in the technology industry, I have been a firm believer in the power of technology to empower individuals and make their lives simpler, more convenient, and more productive through intelligence.  Just look at the conveniences and benefits from the age of mobile computing.  Finding the store you need, a restaurant, or movie time on the fly saves you time and makes life easier.  Imagine living without it.  The promise of Moore’s Law was to deliver faster computing at lower cost.  This benefited PCs by creating powerful new use models and continues to benefit back office through power servers that solve amazing problems.  The next wave of Moore’s Law impact wasn’t just enabling faster compute but smaller, lower power, and low cost compute that could benefit a whole new class of mobile devices like smartphones & tablets with amazing new capabilities but with small light form factors and batteries that last a whole day (or longer).

Today we stand on the verge of the next tech innovation from this phenomenon – embedding low cost, low power compute and connectivity into everyday things (the so called “Internet of Things”) and wearable computing.  This has been talked about for years but we are now starting to see the reality of this vision.  Many industry analysts project the impact of this will be massive – creating multi-billion industry in the next five years.  The impact of Mobile Internet was far greater than the impact of PC Internet on businesses and our everyday lives.  I project the impact of this next wave of Internet of Things will be greater than both revolutionizing industries and empowering people in new ways never dreamed.  IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) companies like General Electric already see this potential and are embracing it to save them billions and reinvent their business through technology companies like Echelon.  Then there is the HIoT, or the Human Internet of Things, and the exciting industry segment of health and fitness.  For more information on IoT, see the Moor Insights & Strategy paper on Behaviorally Segmenting the Internet of Things.  As part of the “quantified-self” movement (I love the term “bio-hacking”), tracking of one’s self through new wearable devices or embedded sensors has the potential to dramatically revolutionize this industry and empower individuals to live healthier and fitter lives through analyzing rich detailed information about our bodies and its activity.

EMPOWERING HEALTHIER & FITTER LIVES THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

I am long-time fitness enthusiast and athlete having run 13 marathons including 2 Bostons and having achieved a sub 3hr PR (Personal Record). With this experience and my background in technology, I am confident that technology will revolutionize the fitness and health industry (and for the good).  We are just in the beginning stages of this impact.  Companies like Nike with their Nike+ platform and Fuelband along with start-ups like Fitbit with their Flex and Force bands and Jawbone with their UP band see this potential as well.  According to ABI Research, 30M wireless wearable health devices were purchased in 2012 and they project 40% YoY growth through 2017 to 160M.  I believe this market is near the tipping point given the amount of people I have been seeing wear these devices of late.  Not only is this a huge new market opportunity, but it’s a chance for existing athletic brands to create deeper engagement & relationships with their customers unlikely ever before.

While I won’t proclaim to be an “expert” on fitness and health, I have learned a lot over my years as a fitness enthusiast and athlete.  Four simple things I’ve learned that can impact your overall fitness:

  1. Paying attention to both exercise & nutrition (not just one or the other)
  2. Tracking your progress
  3. Focusing on quality vs. quantity
  4. Becoming more educated & getting advice/coaching

Maintaining a healthy body is a simple factor of burn rate vs. in-take rate.   A simple equation, but it’s much more complicated as evidenced by the record obesity levels and out of control health care costs we face in our society.  You can exercise twice a day, but not see results if you don’t pay attention to the other key piece of the equation – diet & nutrition.

Tracking your goals and progress is one of the keys to success and a key component of nearly every fitness/diet program.  Monitoring your progress (or lack of) helps provide motivation and ability to adjust behavior based off seeing results.  The problem, however is that tracking has been a fairly manual process, until recently, that is time consuming and not very convenient.  As a result, people tend to not stick with it.

Next, I have learned over the years that quality over quantity matters.  Moving is good but how you move matters more.  I was a competitive runner for many years loving the challenge of the race.  I also used this as my primary means of fitness.  However, as I’ve gotten older (& wiser) with less available free time and general fitness/health as more of my goal, I have learned that long-distance cardio alone is not the best means for overall fitness.  A combination of strength training, mobility/flexibility, cardio, intensity levels, and constant variety can have a bigger impact (and in les time).  Similarly, consuming/eating less is generally good, however the quality/type of food, frequency of consumption, and quantity can have a bigger impact.  This requires much richer and more complex data tracking to provide optimal input into fitness & health plan.

Finally, given most of us are not fitness majors, dieticians, or health care professionals, we need help on what to do.  Presenting us with a bunch of complicated data does no good.  As a society, we are very uneducated on proper nutrition or exercise so we don’t know what to do with it.  So we try things we think will work.  They don’t so we try harder and still don’t see results.  Everyone knows the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and eventually expecting different results.   We need help and guidance on what to do differently and presented in a simple way.  We are all time constrained and looking for an easy solution.  One of my favorite movie scenes is from “There’s Something About Mary” when Ted gets pitched the “SEVEN — MINUTE — ABS” program from the deranged hitchhiker that will blow away “8min Abs”.  We all want our 7 min abs (we’d liked 6min abs but we all know that is impossible).   Truth is that hard work is required, but you can be smart and efficient about how you do it.

All of these problems are perfect conditions for technology to provide solutions.   Over the past 1-2 years, the health & fitness industry has been exploding with new start-ups and established fitness/athletic brands investing heavily in new technology products, applications, and digital services to address this opportunity.  Companies that provide a full platform ecosystem solution to help people achieve their health & fitness goals will be the winners in this market long-term.  Early products and digital services are doing great job of making tracking/monitoring simple and easy through small wearable bands or watches that easily synch to your phone or PC and a digital app service.  The Nike Fuelband, Jawbone UP, Fitbit Flex, and many more capture steps taken, calories burned, synch wirelessly to your phone & PC, ands present data with simple & easy to read graphics.  These devices have limitations though.

Current trackers have limited data that lacks richness and quality.  Most are simply measuring movement like steps taken and distance traveled through a 3-axis accelerometer. Exercise activities that do not have significant movement like weight training & yoga do not get much (or any) credit.  There are a few companies that have added optical heart rate detection for intensity & altimeters for stair climbing.  A new start-up called Push claims to be the first to measure strength by tracking force, power, and velocity.  These are good steps, but additional new sensors and algorithms are needed for gathering a more complete view on exercise.  Another limitation of trackers today is that they do not automate monitoring of nutrition & caloric intake.  Some are adding ability to track this manually (or export data into another food tracking app), but this is time consuming and not very convenient or as accurate.  Automating this through new technologies over the next few years will be critical.  Airo, a new start-up, promises to deliver this capability with a tracker that launches late next year using a spectrometer to measure caloric intake by examining light waves and can parse the nutritional value of food into protein, fat and carbohydrates.  This is yet to be proven as accurate, but is promising.  Companies who can deliver the best of these new measurements in a complete package while maintaining a sleek design, good price, and solid battery life will see success.

The final and most critical step for companies in this space is to evolve into trusted advisors providing advice & personalized recommendations using Big Data analytics to parse the data and make correlations that lead to recommendations for improvement.  Users will not want a bunch of raw detailed data.  They want it presented in a simplified view with simple suggestions.  This will be a key to real impact and change.  Data presentation today is good and provides motivation through awards & achievements and social sharing.  To maintain user engagement though, this has to evolve to predictive intelligent advice and build belief that the company is a true expert on fitness & health.  Companies that move to this position first will be the real winners and achieve true sustainability by creating much deeper relationships with their customers.

CONCLUSION

Achieving your personal health & fitness goals will be significantly aided over the coming years through technology.  Two major steps are needed to full capitalize on this potential: 1) building a more complete data set and 2) generating strong analytics that provide personalized recommendations.  Being able to accurately capture a broad set of exercise activities and automate tracking of your diet are critical to providing a complete picture of tracking your progress.  With this rich data, building out a strong set of Big Data analytics will ultimately provide powerful tools that help people make lasting changes that impact their health and fitness levels.  For more information on this market, see my Fitness Wearables market SWOT report.

If you have an opinion on this article, please drop me a comment or follow me @bpitstick.