In the 1960s, a mathematics professor called Edward Thorp created a computer small enough to fit into a shoe. While some purists may call this the true beginning of “wearable technology”, it’s fair to say that the explosion of Bluetooth-enabled devices in 2002 was the point at which manufacturers decided to go all guns blazing with the rapid advancements in tech products that could be worn by consumers.
While the Bluetooth boom of 2002 was centered around headsets that would work with mobile phones to let wearers answer calls, leave voicemails and send text messages whilst keeping their hands free, it didn’t take long for tech companies to figure out how these types of devices could be extremely beneficial in the fitness, health and sporting worlds.
Nike was one of the first off the block with the Nike+ fitness tracker, designed to measure and record the distance and pace of a runner wearing a pair of the company’s shoes fitted with the device. Fitbit wasn’t far behind. Spotting the huge potential for using small sensors in devices, the company was founded in 2007 and released its first tracker at the end of 2009. Another company seeing the potential in ‘connected devices’ was Withings, which brought the first Wi-Fi scale to the market in that same year. An influx of brands soon followed, and looking at the state of the market in the present day, it’s clear that the health and fitness side of the wearables sector has been one of the most fruitful.
A report earlier this year from IDC revealed that the worldwide market for wearable devices grew 31.4% during the fourth quarter of 2018, reaching a new height of 59.3 million units.
Smartwatches grew 55.2% compared to the fourth quarter of 2017 and accounted for 34.3% of the overall market during the quarter. Wristbands accounted for 30% of the market, with IDC noting that recent launches from Xiaomi, Huawei and Fitbit “continued to drive the category forward”.
With IDC forecasting a 19% increase in smartwatch shipments over the next four years, Fitbit’s marketing director Lucy Sheehan tells PCR that the company is seeing consumers becoming more attracted to a smartwatch “with a purpose that is connected to their health and fitness”.
“It’s not about having multiple apps and functions that replicate a smartphone, but function and features that add personal value and insight into daily life,” says Sheehan.
“Fitbit’s overarching mission is to help make everyone in the world healthier, it’s been our mission for the past 12 years. With new devices and features and an engaging platform experience of software, social, app features and personalised health insights, we are focused on helping our users make positive behaviour changes that help them achieve their health and fitness goals.”
Mathieu Letombe, general manager of Withings, agrees that consumers are looking for devices that give them even more insights into their health. “When wearables first launched, adoption was the main focus of the industry. Now, we are seeing that consumers are more comfortable with wearing their devices daily and health tracking has become mainstream, allowing the industry focus to move into more complex monitoring. Devices now go beyond tracking steps and monitor serious health issues and habits.
“Additionally, now that consumers are used to wearing gadgets daily, they are more interested in devices that are easy to wear long term. This is a challenge the industry is currently tackling – providing devices consumers want to wear for the long run and can easily incorporate into their daily lives, while still getting a wealth of helpful health data,” he tells PCR.
“At Withings, we are focused on leading the industry in providing devices consumers will wear long term while helping them with health prevention. With devices rolling out soon like Withings BPM Core and Move EGC, people can regularly monitor health conditions and levels – like their heart health – to see trends, identify issues early and make adjustments to avoid serious health problems. Both of these devices, along with our other wearable products, are simple to use daily, have impressive battery lives and boast sleek designs that consumers enjoy using.”
Now that consumers are more comfortable using their connected devices, Letombe says that Withings wants to continue to add capabilities and features that will help provide its users with even more health insight and advice.
“We identified an opportunity to take the simple gesture of taking blood pressure to add other game changing tracking capabilities to a standard blood pressure monitor. This led to the creation of BPM Core, which will be available later this year and is the first at-home product with the ability to measure blood pressure, take an ECG and listen to the heart via a digital stethoscope – in one device,” he explains.
“Additionally, with Move ECG, which will also be available this year, we were able to add ECG capabilities to an activity tracker built into a standard analog watch to allow people to monitor their heart health from their wrist.”
“It’s not about having multiple apps that replicate a smartphone, but features that add personal value and insight into daily life” Lucy Sheehan, Fitbit
Since launching, Letombe says that Withings has worked to lead the industry in creating “beautifully designed devices that can be easily worn every day without giving up their personal style or worrying about having to charge their devices frequently”.
“In order to make a real difference in people’s lives and to guarantee a long term use of our devices, Withings has been dedicated to not compromising style, providing users with designs that have long lasting battery lives, simple-to-use capabilities, and fit every routine and lifestyle, all while providing a wealth of useful information and tips,” he says.
More to come?
While there is still innovation happening in the wearables sector, is there much more that can be done with health and fitness trackers or has the bubble burst?
Fitbit’s Sheehan believes that there is still plenty of room in the market, pointing to recent data from GfK, which shows that despite the increase in smartwatches, fitness trackers remain a large segment of the wearables market, accounting for 43% of unit sales from May 2018 to April 2019.
“Many consumers still prefer the form factor of a tracker and the simplified user interface, price is an important consideration too. At Fitbit we believe that in this market there is no one-size- fits-all solution and it is important to have a range of devices to suit everyone’s needs,” she says.
Withings’ Letombe also believes there is more to come in the fitness tracking sector: “I believe it took time for consumers to adopt wearing trackers daily. Now that it is a norm to track steps, sleep and more, there is new opportunity for companies to incorporate new health features to their devices to help users prevent health risks and receive helpful feedback to ultimately make changes to their health habits.”
“Wearables continue to go beyond just tracking steps and sleep. Now, there are devices that track a wealth of more advanced health conditions and habits” Mathieu Letombe, Withings
Moving forward, Letombe says we’re likely to see devices that fit more easily into consumers’ everyday lives. “Wearables have had the issue of being invasive – where users have to work around the devices to fit them into their daily lives and understand the data provided. This has actually caused the market to slow down. I am looking forward to seeing more devices become available that are elegant and easy to wear and understand how to use.
“Additionally, I believe we will see wearables continue to go beyond just tracking steps and sleep. Now, there are wearables that track a wealth of more advanced health conditions and habits. This allows people to not only select a device that has the design that matches their personal style, but also provides the features and tracking capabilities that are in line with their health and fitness goals, including more advanced conditions. At Withings, we are committed to this and have showcased this with Move ECG,” explains Letombe.
Looking ahead to the future of the wearables market, Sheehan says it’s exciting to see the predicted growth across the smartwatch sector and the benefits this will deliver to consumers.
“We believe that offering more personalised insights and connecting personal data to give users a holistic picture of how things such as getting more active, sleeping better, reducing stress, female health tracking and managing weight can positively affect overall health. This will continue to be an exciting area of development in the future,” she says.
“Across the broader market, it is interesting to see more niche wearable tech products develop, products that bring personal health and wellness benefits into the home; take Owlet, for example, who make wearable tech products that track heart rate and oxygen levels in sleeping babies, and a pregnancy belt that helps track the baby’s wellness in utero. Along with Fitbit, these are the kinds of wearables that can really make a difference to people’s lives.”
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