Apple Newton Prototype

Fitness Trackers Are Dead, Long Live Digital Health

Palm Pilot 5000Anyone remember the Apple Newton? Or the Palm Pilot? Maybe you were once addicted to a Blackberry – also known as the crackberry because people just couldn’t put them down. Well, it looks like Fitbit might be on its way to technology oblivion – just like all three of those once hot personal tech innovations. Blackberry model 957 Internet EditionDoes this mean that the promise of digital health technology is dead?

Not exactly.

Launched in 2009, Fitbit created and dominated the fitness tracker category from the beginning. The brand evolved through a succession of increasingly advanced fitness monitoring technologies. At first, it offered little more than an advanced step counter.

It evolved into a connected health monitor that tracks detailed activity data, sleep, and heart rate. It inspired many competitors.

Fitbit Ultra

Garmin developed GPS-enabled smartwatches for serious athletes. Fitbit inspired Apple to launch a smartwatch in 2015. It attracted a low-cost competitor – Xiaomi – which recently passed Fitbit as the #1 seller of fitness trackers.

Google Trends, Fading Interest in Fitbit and Apple WatchFading Interest

When Fitbit sold its initial public offering of stock in 2015, interest in the brand peaked. Since then, the company’s fortunes have slid downward. Fitbit stock price has dropped from nearly $48 to less than $6 today. Good reasons are fueling this slide.

Changing Consumer Beliefs

Fitbit Alta HR

For one thing, consumer assumptions about physical activity are changing. Though Fitbit never really claimed a weight loss benefit, consumer psychology has long favored the idea of working out to lose weight.

But the fact is that you can’t outrun a bad diet. Health experts have been pointing this out for several years now. And our own research tells us that consumers are getting the message.

Although physical activity has undeniable health benefits, it’s a lousy way to lose weight. The toughest blow came with a randomized, controlled study last year that showed people actually lost more weight if they didn’t use an activity tracker.

The Road Ahead

Digital health tools and trackers will not disappear any more than handheld devices disappeared after Apple’s Newton flopped. Today people seem unable to walk without a smartphone.

What is clear is that much work remains to make digital health tools more engaging for more than just six months or so. Right now, most Fitbits wind up in a dusty bin as soon as the novelty wears off.

But for health, it’s the long term that matters. And for long-term outcomes, ongoing engagement is essential. People who stay more engaged maintain a healthier weight status. And artificial intelligence tools are emerging to help maintain that engagement.

It’s tricky, but the human connection to digital health tools is improving rapidly. And that connection holds promise for making a real difference in your health.

Click here for a post mortem on the current crop of fitness trackers and here for insight into the record-setting pace of investments in digital health. For a personal reflection on digital engagement and accountability, click here.

Apple Newton Prototype, photograph © Grant Hutchinson / flickr

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July 18, 2017

2 Responses to “Fitness Trackers Are Dead, Long Live Digital Health”

  1. July 18, 2017 at 9:42 am, Al Lewis said:

    In the great minds think alike department, see

    It’s not just that they don’t work. It’s that they transparently lie about how well they work.

    • July 18, 2017 at 9:49 am, Ted said:

      Critical thinking is a precious commodity, Al. Thanks for sharing it!