Nobody can deny that the market for consumer wearable devices (such as Fitbit and Jawbone) is booming. In 2015, a research firm estimated the number of activity trackers sold in the US to be over 13 million. Personally, I followed the fitness tracker trend and bought a Fitbit for both my husband and father as well as an Apple Watch for myself that I used as an activity tracker. However, about a year later, my father is the only one still using his device. So, what happened?
Turns out, it’s fairly common for people to stop wearing their activity tracker shortly after they buy it. According to a white paper released in January of 2014, Inside Wearables, wearable activity trackers don’t sustain long term user engagement. For those U.S. consumers who owned an activity tracker and answered the online survey, over half reported no longer using them and a third reported stopping using their device within the first six months.
In looking back to my own experience, about four months after receiving my Apple Watch I remember thinking a particular bracelet looked better with my outfit than the watch. From that point forward it just became more and more common for me to leave the house wearing jewelry as opposed to my device. A recent article in The Atlantic also discusses how fitness trackers can double as a fashion statement; however, the problem is that fashion trends can be fickle and pass quickly. In my case, I guess I considered my watch to be more of an accessory than a vital piece of my wardrobe.
Another reason I didn’t continue to find my watch necessary was the lack of new information, another factor mentioned in the Atlantic article. After wearing it to the gym a handful of times, I knew how many calories my workout would typically burn and my average heart rate. I didn’t need my Apple Watch because I already knew what it was going to tell me.
My husband, although he wore his Fitbit for almost a year before it permanently ended up in his desk drawer, also fell off the fitness tracker train. While the novelty of tracking his activity did lessen after a few months, he had another motivating factor. He received extra money in his insurance-based flexible spending account if he frequently met his daily activity goal. The incorporation of activity trackers into corporate wellness programs is becoming increasingly common and certainly does offer a new spin on motivating users to stay healthy and active. Nevertheless, the insurance-based incentives were not enough to keep him using his Fitbit. When the newness of the incentive wore off, the Fitbit was used less and less, and eventually not at all.
The same Atlantic article mentioned above also briefly touches on the exact reason another one of my family members (my mother) didn’t want a Fitbit or any other type of fitness tracker. The article goes on to state that constantly tracking your activity takes the joy out of it. For some people, activities that were once pleasant begin to feel forced when the primary goal becomes accumulation of steps or burning of calories rather than enjoyment. My mom realized this from the start and decided that she didn’t want to know how many calories she is burning at the gym or her heart rate. She enjoys working out and was concerned constantly tracking her data would take the fun out of it.
So now we come to the burning question, after 18 months, why was my Dad able to keep using his fitness tracking device? When asked, he stated that he likes the motivation. The device encourages him to walk around his office throughout the day and helps him keep track of his activity. He also likes competing with friends. My Dad’s reasons for liking his Fitbit align with a recent article in The New York Times that identifies motivation as the primary purpose we buy these devices. “Simply knowing how many steps you take, or how much sleep you get, will spur you to seek more, especially if you’re comparing and competing with your online peers.” It turns out that he wasn’t doing anything different from the rest of us, the built-in motivating factors offered by the device kept him wearing it.
Knowing there aren’t many of us who wear fitness trackers over long periods of time and the variety of reasons why people stop or don’t even bother to wear them, are you still wearing yours?
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of RTI International.