What the future hold for wearables

By Fiona Bugler

Wearables include smartwatches, armbands, wristbands, headsets, earbuds, shoes and clothing. The smart element measures and monitors what we do, including our eating and sleeping habits, daily activity levels, exercise and sports, as well as keep us in touch with the world via calls, texts and email/web notifications.

Health and fitness dominates the wearable market. And many of us are familiar with the sight of a small band on a wrist and hearing friends, family and colleagues chatting about how many steps they’ve done today or hours of sleep they had last night.

The weakness with wearables
In the February issue of Sports Insight, we reported on Mintel’s latest research, which revealed that an estimated three million-plus fitness bands and smartwatches were sold in 2015, an increase of 118 per cent on the previous year.

However, according to many commentators, the weakness with wearables is that users don’t know what to do with the data and after a few months the novelty of using one wears off. A survey sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found a third of consumers stopped using their tracker within six months of receiving it and nearly half stopped within a year.

But as a nation we are, at least, showing willing. Mintel’s report reveals that in 2015 79 per cent of those surveyed said they had at least one specific health and fitness goal.

But despite having a goal, Mintel’s wearable survey published in January 2016 found we are left with more questions than answers and even though 54 per cent of respondents said they wanted to monitor their activity, more than half of those questioned (51 per cent) said they didn’t see how wearable devices could add value to their daily routine.

Sara Ballaben, technology analyst at Mintel, says: “There are currently no solutions in the market. At the end of my report, I suggest that for wearable devices to stay relevant, there needs to be some proactive engagement. There needs to be value added through personalised recommendations, for example, reminders to drink more water or cut back on calories.”

Amplify Life
It seems the pioneers in the marketplace have cottoned on to this. New brand Amplify Life spotted this missing piece of the jigsaw and is helping consumers play catch-up on the advances in technology.

Jawaz Illavia, CEO of Amplify Life, says: “We saw there was a gap between the data provided by trackers and technology and the action required to help people achieve their goals. You have a fitness tracker feeding you all this information and you’re left asking: ‘So what?’.

“We’re closing this gap. We realise the goal comes first, then the tracking. We help users identify their goals, recommend actions and plans and use the data they provide to track and recommend more actions.

“There’s no point in knowing how far you’ve walked or how many calories you’ve burned if you don’t know why you’re doing it, what you want to achieve or where you’re going next.”

Amplify’s service allows a wearable user to plug into the company’s free health platform, where they set goals, get bespoke actions and recommendations based on science and track activity, until they reach their goal. It would seem innovative brands such as Amplify Life are onto something.

Under Armour HealthBox
Under Armour recently launched the HealthBox. It’s partnered with HTC and delivered a product that includes a WiFi scale, an activity tracker (with optical heart rate monitoring), wireless headphones (that also pick up on heart rate) and even a pair of running shoes with electronics embedded in them.

“In 2016, we will see fitness wearables with 3G GPS and an embedded SIM, which will mean the user won’t have to connect to their phone and so will be able to listen to music using their Bluetooth headphones, receive calls, texts and emails, as well as capture that all-important data,” Ballaben says.

“With the increasing popularity of new large screen ‘phablets’, users are less likely to want to carry phones when they’re working out, creating a compelling use for wristworn watches.”

Nevertheless, phablets will provide an additional function for services such as those provided by Amplify Life. As well as displaying cutting edge dashboards with data and recommendations, these bigger screens will be great for watching personalised exercise videos at the gym - another element of the Amplify offering - and catching up on daily recommendations whenever it’s convenient.

It’s clear these bespoke, mobile, one-to-one tailored services will provide a key add-on to any wearable. And in our increasingly time-poor lives, fitness at home continues to be popular.

Virtual reality
“Mintel’s report, In Home And Individual Fitness, found that just 12 per cent of those who had a fitness goal went to classes, but 67 per cent were involved in fitness at home,” Ballaben says.

“This opens up a whole new world of wearable virtual reality. Products currently on the market include Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR, which allow users to insert their phone into a simple box and experience any virtual reality they want - for example, running outside in a great environment for use on a treadmill. This is predicted to be the next big thing in fitness.”

  

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