The Current State of Fitness Apps and Wearable Devices

In 2015 there were more than 100,000 health-related apps. Wearable fitness devices are showing a similar rate of growth. However, the technology isn’t perfect, and a high number of users abandon the devices and apps within a year of purchasing them. If you’re considering jumping on the wearable device and fitness app bandwagon, what follows is an overview of the technology and some of its challenges.

The technology used in wearable devices and mobile apps varies in complexity depending on what the user is trying to accomplish. Examples include simple step tracking for estimating daily physical activity to the intricate detection of disease evidence used for medical diagnosis. The devices come in the form of wristbands, smartphones, smartwatches and clip-on devices. Applications come in the form of digital user/patient logs, nutrition diaries and cardio monitoring devices (for medical purposes).

Most of the devices and applications used today are primarily for the everyday user to track daily activity and vital factors, and some of the more advanced models may even detect periods of stress. In the lesser-used area of medical prevention and diagnosis applications, the devices act as a patient diary, recording vital information that can be used by doctors to initiate treatment plans. Vital parameters can be sent directly to medical personnel, eliminating the number of trips a patient needs to make to their physician. This is a big issue for medical professionals and insurance companies, as patients would make fewer visits to physical offices, reducing their co-pays. It will be important to keep an eye on this specific topic, as it will be interesting to see how the giant insurance firms respond.

In the big scheme of things, the technology is still in its infancy and it’s far from perfect. The biggest challenge the developers of this technology face is user burnout. In the U.S., nearly a third of all users of wearable devices stop using them within six months. It’s estimated that a big cause of this is the lack of visual feedback and behavior change elements. Successful apps actually tend to employ some of the same strategies as successful video games. These features include personalized goal setting, user-specific feedback and leaderboards. What most apps do successfully manage are the social and peer elements. Achievements can be shared and peer “competitions” are easy to launch. But, like any other technology, evolution must be continuous to keep the devices and apps current.

The good news is that this technology doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. The benefits have been established and the increase in major medical applications will certainly keep it around for a while. Furthermore, some pretty big players are looking to get into the healthcare business. Giants like Amazon, Google and Apple have expressed interest in the healthcare field. Given these companies’ positions on the “technology” tree and their subsequent bank accounts, you can bet that we’ll see some pretty remarkable advances in the wearable fitness device and mobile application markets. The challenge for developers will be to keep the casual user engaged, and when it comes to user engagement and brand loyalty, nobody does it better than Amazon, Google and Apple.