On any given day, Freshman Wesley Luh will likely be wearing his white BASIS watch. This watch, however, does more than simply tell time.
“It tracks my sleep which made me realize I need to sleep more, and it tells me how much I’ve moved,” Luh said. “It gives me a sense of satisfaction to see how much I’ve exercised and motivates me to do more.”
Luh’s watch, which he got last year, reflects a new ubiquitous trend in American society—wearable fitness technology. According to The NPD Group, an international market research company that tracks the sales of products, despite the introduction of the Apple Watch, companies like FitBit, Jawbone and Garmin sold approximately 13.4 million activity trackers in the U.S. alone in 2015—an increase of 6.2 million from the 7.2 million sold in 2014. The overall sales, $1.46 billion, were more than double that of 2014. Even with this increased demand, the average price of a wearable fitness device also jumped from $96 to $109, indicating that the market is powerful and still growing.
Although the industry is robust and technology becomes better by day, wearable fitness technology still remains ineffective compared to smartphones in several aspects.
The first issue is that not many Americans are willing to wear yet another object. A survey cited by the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) found that more than half of people who bought a fitness tracker later went on to stop wearing the device. This makes apps on smartphones far more preferable because more people have one. Additionally, while most apps do not require an actual device and cost anywhere on a scale from little to nothing to nothing, wearable fitness devices average over $100 and can be cumbersome.
“I don’t think I necessarily would wear a device even if I got one because I just do not think I would use it too often,” Junior Larissa Bitterli said. “I would much rather have a phone app that does the same thing because it would be easier.”
The more significant problem, however, is that wearable fitness technology has yet to catch up to smartphones in terms of accuracy. Another study done by JAMA found that, contrary to popular belief, smartphone apps are more accurate than wearable fitness devices. The study was performed by having healthy adults over 18 walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, twice respectively. At the end of the walking, the number of steps recorded on the device or app were recorded, and the averages of the data for each device were graphed. While the margin of error was only from -6.7 percent and 6.2 percent for smartphone apps, wearable devices ranged anywhere from -1.5 percent to -22.7 percent. This misrepresentation of amount of steps walked leads to incorrect statistics about how much exercise an user has gotten, misleading them on how much they have actually worked out.
As Luh notes, it is still true that wearable fitness devices provide useful information and can help some with keeping themselves in check. However, there are cheaper alternatives in the omnipresent smartphone that can do the job better.