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April 23rd, 2016

Why Health And Fitness Are The Only Wearables That Matter

The device on your wrist could save your life.

On April 1, I started wearing a fitness tracker on my wrist. No joke.

To be honest, it was not really my decision but apparently the device is a good way to monitor how little I walk, swim and run during the day. The device also claims to be able to tell me how much restful sleep I actually get although I have disagreed with the wearable every time I sync with the mobile app.

The best bit about my fitness tracker? The device doesn’t look like a fitness tracker.

My agreement to wearing something on my wrist that wasn’t a Tag Heuer was conditional on it not looking like a Fitbit or anything that transmits or receives data. Put it simply, my smartphone sends enough information to me every day. The fitness tracker had to be … anonymous.

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The 2010s are supposed to be the decade that wearables break into the mainstream. Fitness trackers were just the first wave. Our wrists would be under attack from a stream of smartwatches and wearable devices all of which were transmitting data on a regular basis.

Wearables Are Devices For The Future

Some industry analysts went with cautious optimism. The International Data Corporation said that global shipments of wearables could reach 110 million units by the end of the year with 237 million units shipped in 2020. Apple’s next smartwatch was predicted to be the flag bearer for our wearable society, competing with Android Wear devices for a share of consumer affections.

Gartner was even more optimistic. By 2020, 500 million smartwatches and connected “bracelets” will ship with two out of every five people using a wearable by 2019. Early adopters of wearables all had a “told you so” look on their faces. The time had come to believe the hype.

And then virtual reality turned up to claim 2016 as its own.

The technology industry does not tend to put augmented, mixed and virtual in the wearables category. But people are strapping computer-based goggles to their faces … so it sure looks like a wearable.


Smartwatches and fitness trackers are painted as useful, but not as cool. A wearable that puts you into an immersive experience as opposed to one that tells you how long you have sat on the couch? I am likely to take the former option.

Irrespective of whether or not virtual reality sustains its own hype cycle, wearables have an obvious path to follow—health and fitness.

A report by market intelligence company Tractica said that fitness trackers, connected wearable patches and smartwatches would play a key role in health and well-being. According to Tractica’s Wearable Devices for Healthcare Markets report, wearables are a part of an ongoing revolution in healthcare-related applications, so much so that they have the potential to save lives.

Which is kind of the point of wearables. The device doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles we associate with smartphones—it just needs to do a job. Smartwatches are just an extension of your smartphone; fitness trackers and health-centric devices have an actual purpose.

Healthcare Wearables Are A Logical Choice

Tractica said worldwide shipments for healthcare wearables would increase from 2.5 million units in 2016 to 97.6 million units by 2021. At the end of that five-year period, the healthcare wearables market would be worth $17.8 billion in annual revenue. Which means that a lot of people will either monitoring their own health or waiting for the doctor to call.


“Wearables are being seen as an extension of the digital transformation of healthcare, said Tractica research director Aditya Kaul, in a press release. “Helping pharmaceutical companies to expand clinical trials, enabling insurance companies to engage with customers by incentivizing healthier living, helping healthcare providers to improve the delivery of healthcare, and empowering patients by providing them access to their own health data.”

See also: The Best And Worst Rated Health And Fitness Apps For 2016

The “digital transformation of healthcare” has been a long time coming. Healthcare providers and medical practitioners have been reluctant to embrace the digitization of medical records or off-premise monitoring, despite the fact that the data gathered can be the difference between life and death.

Take pharmaceutical companies, for example.

Wearables are the perfect device to get information to Big Pharma on how a disclaimer-heavy product is treating an individual. Tractica cited a U.S. National Institutes of Health report that said there almost 300 clinical trials that use a combination of wearables and mobile apps to test the effectiveness of drugs. Apple’s ResearchKit app makes it easier for companies to find volunteers for large-scale studies—Tractica said that 60,000 people were recruited within weeks of the app launching in March 2015.

In the old days, doctors would need to see the patient to get the readings they wanted but it is more convenient to have the patient wear a device that transmits data without the need for a physical examination. A recent study of 8,000 healthcare consumers by Accenture Consulting said that 78% of people would wear health-tracking devices with the number of people who use health apps increasing from 16% in 2014 to 33% in less than two years.

“The era of attaching multiple electrodes and wires on the body is over, making it much simpler to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using a smart watch, wrist-based device or wearable patch, and to do it on a continuous 24×7 basis,” said Tractica. “Today’s wearables enable the growth of the quantified-self movement, allowing people to make correlations between sleep, activity levels, and diet.”

Barriers To Wearables Adoption

The hurdle that wearables have to clear is still public perception.

At the moment, wearables are still seen as a niche product. Well-known brands such as Fitbit have increased consumer awareness of fitness trackers but they are still considered by the masses to be gadgets. Research by the American Council on Exercise cited by the Huffington Post said that 33% of consumers stopped using their fitness trackers after six months with 50% dumping a device after less than a year.


People get bored of gadgets. The constant stream of new devices can be overwhelming. Wearables have been hyped as a must-have device for so long that they have ceased to be interesting or unique. Technology moves quickly and, as the noted philosopher Ferris Bueller said, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”

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Wearables should be more than gadgets. The data that they collect can be vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and, importantly, flagging up any potential health issues. Healthcare-centric wearables are still in a nascent stage of development but the potential is there.

As the pace of society increases, individual health matters more than ever. We can’t make decisions without the health data to back it up. By the same chalk, doctors can only give advice based on the information they receive. Wearables can bridge the gap.

Healthcare wearables are not here yet, but they will be. And now if you will excuse me, my fitness tracker has told me that I have been sat on my backside for three hours. Time for a walk.

  • For someone writing about the digital world it is not too clever admitting to wearing a fitness tracker for the first time this past month. Secondly, to conclude with such bold assertion that the ONLY use is health and fitness is totally uninformed and complete conjecture. Especially after such limited experience.

    Just contemplate for a moment, once the power, size and processing issues are resolved for the following:
    -audio I/O that is separate from the phone (or perhaps just radio dongle in the future with process done in the cloud).
    -gesture and tactile.
    -and of course video I/O peripherals
    that will, not might, be worn in the future.

    So that’s really not a healthy place to stand. You don’t say!

    Maybe it would help if you identified which wearable you actually have on your wrist. And did you buy it yourself, or were gifted or comped?

    Also, why not turn around and say that over 60% are still using trackers after 6 months and 50% using them after a year. That’s pretty darn good. What do so many people LIKE about trackers? Disclosure, I’m on my 3rd jawbone in 3 years and have my fair share of informed opinions (good and bad).

    Finally, if this article were really about the potential for healthcare wearables, why not start with how prices could come down (as in hearing aids) and how much money could be saved with wearables? The healthcare industry as a whole does not like to hear about price reductions and efficiencies, which in my opinion is the real story you don’t address.

    • David Bolton

      Thanks for your comments, Michael.

      I freely admit that it took me some time to put a fitness tracker on my wrist but since I did I have found it to be extremely useful. In answer to your questions I bought the $99 Misfit myself as part of a determined effort to analyze my own health on a daily basis. This is not the first time I have done this as I have been monitoring (on a very occasional basis) health data generated by an app on my phone for three years. But the wearable was just a better and less intrusive option. Yes, my experience with the wearable is limited, and yes it was a bold statement after only a few days of wearing it. However, I stand by the headline that health-related wearables are the ones will matter in the long run. Society needs to get fitter, wearables will enable that to happen. And lets be honest, the healthcare industry in this country could be doing a lot more to make wearables an attractive option for people that want to know how unhealthy their lifestyle is.