The hottest and sexiest startup space today is fitness tracking. The space has been capitalizing on a rush to health and fitness that has captured western markets through a sharp increase in the participation in jogging/running (31% projected annual growth rate 2010-2015, Statista.com) and extreme lifestyle fitness regimes such as P90X, Insanity and CrossFit.

With the push, we’ve seen a plethora of devices introduced recently including the FitBit One / Flex, Jawbone UP, Amiigo (coming out this summer), Larklife, Zeo, Striiv, BodyMedia devices, and those from industry stalwarts like Nike, Adidas, Polar and Garmin.

Yes, it’s all really exciting. Soon we’re all going to have a perfect record of our activities and realize just how MUCH or how LITTLE we actually move during a given day… and night.

Great, so now that you know that… Do most people really care? Probably not.

I bought my sister and bro-in-law Jawbone UP bands for Christmas after some diligent research (FitBit was too prone to being lost, Nike Fuel Band didn’t do a great job with biking and other movements as well as not having a sleep quality feature, Polar et al weren’t cutting edge enough, and others didn’t register in my mind enough to feel they would be around). Indeed, although it was quite a nice gift for my good family, I realized that I was also using this gift giving opportunity as a testing ground to see whether people close to me, who are generally away from the edge of tech, could integrate such devices into their lives and see real improvement.

These were the key insights:

  • dancing > sitting
  • running > walking
  • stairs > elevator
  • shaking hands in the air > not shaking hands in the air
  • dancing at night > sleeping at night (possibly?)

Yes, that’s it.

This leads me to my real question: What do these trackers do that is so innovative besides reminding you of common sense? I’m clearly referring to our previously mentioned Jawbone UP, FitBit One / Flex and Nike Fuel Band as the Polar, Garmin and other GPS units are excellent for navigating unfamiliar territory as well as on nice runs.

You have to ask yourself whether it is worth it to pay $100+ for a device to remind you of the above relations. I forgot one: moving > not moving.

Clearly, there is a novelty factor and the real insight into one’s behaviors discerned from mounds of personal data, but the novelty and insight alone is only interesting if you were interested in your health, behavior and movement beforehand. It seems that this trend could simply be for those individuals that wish to signal to others that they DO in fact care for their health and enjoy tracking their movements. I guess you could say they are just a bunch of expensive LiveStrong bracelets (maybe you can cheat using them as well?). See Lindsey Colella’s Blog or AllThingD for further slamming of fitness tracking devices.

So what is missing? The trackers of today that try to gamify your living experience to reward you for healthy decisions MUST get better at doing so; today they are simply oversold pedometers rather than proper self-quantification tools. Companies need to ask themselves, “How can I create a massive incentive for this user to get up and workout or skip the fries besides the inherent health benefits?”. Do you involve a new tool to incite social stigma or send virtual / real gifts? Maybe you need to create a virtual boy’s scout patch system.

I think a possible answer lies in tying health insurance premiums to the behavior and actions of the user that are gleaned from data gathered by the trackers. More fitness = lower insurance premiums. This type of REAL dollar benefit is easy to see and can provide the push one needs to get outdoors and change their lives because that is the point – tracking devices should change our lives for the better; it should work for us rather than simply being a repository of behavioral data of healthy people that already take care of themselves.

Another point that is related, but much more controversial is for companies to make fitness trackers mandatory for employees and actually raise rates for those that are simply not active while reducing the rates for those that are. This would DEFINITELY provide massive incentive to get moving and would improve the lives of those that use fitness trackers. I don’t entirely agree with this as there could be some legal issues associated with data use and along with the punishment factor as being a bit too harsh for those that can’t exactly move as much as others.

In summary, if you love technology and want to be seen as a fitness / tech nut, buy the tracker. If you want to get into shape:

Move your body

Images Courtesy of Digitaltrends.com