Gadgets

Why fitness wearables can’t be one-size-fits-all

Above: The new Fuelband is nearly identical to its predecessor, but with a splash of color.

Image Credit: Ricardo Bilton/VentureBeat

Consumers can’t get enough of wearables. But let’s face it, companies are missing the mark when it comes to designing for all of us.

Products on the market today assume a one-size-fits-all device will do the trick, but that’s not really the case.

Just take a minute to consider some of the most popular fitness wearables on the market: Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Force, Jawbone Up, Polar Loop, Mio Alpha. They have a similar look and feel; many are meant to be worn on the wrist; and they all seem to be designed for the same audience — the “perfect-body user.”

Despite many companies touting a one-size-fits-all approach to their fitness devices, a closer look at the current models shows they are designed for an individual that already considers himself or herself an athlete (or at the least, a fitness enthusiast).

What those devices fail to consider is that the average consumer is not, in fact, a perfect-body user. We are different sizes, different ages, and different fitness levels; and we have differing needs.

If wearables truly are going to usher in a fitness revolution, the products will need to address more focused audience segments based upon commonalities across body types or user needs.

Let’s take a look at the two major problems with fitness wearables right now:

Materials lack versatility

According to the CDC, over one third of all adults are obese. What’s more, 20 percent of adults say they are on a diet. Materials for wearables need to be flexible and provide the ability to scale up (or down) as the user’s body adjusts throughout their fitness journey.

And what about children? At this early stage in the wearables market, we’ve yet to see a variety of products differentiated for youth segments, so any fitness-forward children are forced to make existing wearable trackers work for their body type — a difficult proposition considering the limited band sizes and non-scalable materials.

It’s also important to take a user’s joint mobility into consideration. As a woman in my early 30s, I have no problem putting any wearable band on or taking it off. Can seniors or individuals with limited mobility in their hands say the same? Probably not.

These products weren’t designed in a way to cater to someone with arthritis or other joint mobility issues. Exploring alternate options, such as magnetic closures for the bands, or looking at designing a tracker that can simply be pulled on (like a wrist sweatband) could significantly decrease barriers for the aging population.

Inconsiderate of people with different abilities

One major design flaw in today’s fitness wearables is that they don’t take into account that a significant percentage of fitness enthusiasts have different physical abilities: missing limbs or limbs with limited functionality.

Having limited mobility in your limbs can have a negative effect on a user’s experience with a wearable band –that is, if they even have the possibility to wear it. On top of that, there are no wearables on the market today that address the specific fitness tracking needs of individuals in wheelchairs.

Our society has been highly cognizant of providing accessibility to those with physical impairments. Why should the world of fitness tracking be any different? We have begun to see some innovation and flexibility in this area with trackers like the Misfit Shine, which can be calibrated and worn on any part of the body, allowing for a more diverse user base.

In other words, a senior woman with arthritic hands could wear the Shine around her neck, or an athlete without arms could snap it to his shorts. Additionally wearable headbands and clothing for fitness purposes are slowing entering the market, but alternative options remain limited, excluding an important segment of society.

Getting rid of this idea of the perfect body user requires more than simply identifying the major problems in today’s fitness wearables. We need to figure out how to make them better.

Where do we go from here?

First things first, it’s time to say goodbye to the one-size-fits-all approach.

In this young industry, it’s understandable that the first-to-market players catered their products to the largest addressable market (i.e. the average consumer). But we’re not all the same person, and wearables shouldn’t treat us as such.

Whether it be by skin color, age, or physical ability, there are numerous markets out there with needs waiting to be met, and early movers in other addressable niche markets have a tremendous business opportunity.

Case in point: according to the World Health Organization, one percent of the world’s population — that’s 65 million people — need a wheelchair. If wearable companies could customize the form and user experience to meet the unique needs of that segment, they would open the wearables market to an entirely untapped group of consumers.

Furthermore, recent census data reveal that the United States is home to about 79 million baby boomers. This is a sizeable market, and one where maintaining a healthy activity level can be an important part in supporting wellness goals.

However, many individuals in this group may suffer from arthritis, which can cause extreme difficulty when maneuvering fitness bands. A product geared specifically towards this segment completely revolutionizes the fitness possibilities for this underserved population.

It’s no secret that fitness wearables have major potential to change lives. We’re already seeing exceptional growth in the number of wearables shipped last year alone

But in order to attain unprecedented adoption, we’ll need to see the creation of devices that address specific market segments so that all of us can be represented in wearables and have a device that meets our unique taste or needs. This is not a one-size-fits-all market, after all.

Jen Quinlan is the Senior Director of Marketing at Mutual Mobile, an emerging technology software company headquartered in Austin, TX, where she runs an award-winning marketing team and fulfills a roadmap of emerging R&D initiatives. Jen is passionate about how wearable technology can help people, specifically how wearables can benefit people with different abilities.


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