NEW PURPOSE AGE WEARABLES: ONE SIZE DOESN’T FITNESS ALL

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Wearable technology and its associated monitoring, analysing and recommending features are the foundation of the personal fitness and health spaces

It’s an incredibly broad field, encompassing everything from single-purpose GPS trackers to smartwatches on par with cutting-edge smartphones.

The ease with which users can track their heart rate, calories, sleep, oxygen levels, and more has refined past the point of useful or “nice to have”. Wearable devices have made such an impact that life assurance underwriters now use their data to influence their premiums, and some are so precise they can pick up early warning signs for underlying health conditions, like a heart arrhythmia.

The initial growth of the space spurred on by the miniaturisation of technology found in medical devices, is accelerated by the ability to process massive amounts of data, greater interconnectivity, and personalisation.

Currently, wearable tech is a multibillion dollar industry that still has room to develop and disrupt. This is thanks to devices becoming more advanced yet affordable with Artificial Intelligence (AI) dropped into the technology mix.

This comes at a particularly interesting time for the wearables industry given how it has moved from a polarisation of high-end and affordable, both offering accuracy and efficacy for the average user.

It’s clear there is still an appetite for devices that emphasises personalisation, but this comes appended with the request that the personalisation actually works and benefits users as advertised.

“Online workouts have always been a popular choice for at-home fitness, but what’s [relatively] new is the space for smart wearables. In addition to becoming more self-aware of our own well-being, we also rely on quantifiable information and data to monitor ourselves.” Lilian Chen, head of international affairs & senior planner at Wondercise.

Everything is personal

“We will launch the world’s first personalised lower back pain assessment and treatment technology. This will be a game changing product for a huge amount of sufferers worldwide.” Steve Leftly, director at Myovolt.

The success of most smart health-tech products hinges on their usability.

Be easy to use, enabling even those unfamiliar with health-tech to access benefits without difficulty. Provide a clear pathway to both immediate and long-term benefits, catering to various or specific health goals. Generate clear and concise data that is easy to understand and navigate.

Fitness

That is why wearable and smart-tech aimed at the fitness space has experienced explosive growth. As people become more health-conscious, they naturally seek ways to monitor their physical activity and overall well-being. Fitness wearables provide real-time data on steps taken, distance covered, heart rate, and more, enabling users to better understand their health and track against their goals.

Fitness wearables are typically compact, lightweight, and easy to wear throughout the day. From the ultra basic step counter wristbands up to the Montblanc and Tissot luxury smartwatches, these devices seamlessly integrate into users’ daily routines, making it convenient to track their activity levels without carrying around additional devices. It’s in connecting with other devices that we see another layer of differentiation, with the data collected being visualised through apps, giving users a clearer picture of their progress and motivating them to maintain an active lifestyle.

Using that data is where AI comes in. Many fitness wearables use algorithms to provide personalised recommendations based on users’ activity levels, goals, and health metrics – allowing users to make informed decisions about their fitness routines and health habits.

Combining this with the gamification aspect of fitness wearables, such as earning badges or rewards for reaching certain milestones – and devices connections to social media platforms or dedicated fitness communities – allows users to share their achievements, participate in challenges, and compete with friends or other users, adding a social and competitive element to their fitness journey.

All of these features are grounds for differentiating one product from another in the global smart-tech fitness space, with the quality of fitness recommendations becoming increasingly important as AI refines, improves, and gives users the opportunity to improve their fitness based on their own data.

“There is also a growing demand for virtual and mixed-reality fitness experiences. Users can now participate in immersive workout classes, virtual races, and interactive training sessions from the comfort of their homes. This is also something we are trying to achieve with our new Wondercise Gym.” Lilian Chen: head of international affairs & senior planner at Wondercise.

Artificial intelligence

Integrating AI into wellness wearables offers a multitude of transformative benefits that enhance users’ health journeys. AI-powered wellness wearables provide real-time, personalised insights into physical activity, sleep patterns, and overall well-being, enabling users to make informed decisions about their health routines.

By analysing data trends over time, properly trained and calibrated AI algorithms can identify individualised patterns and provide tailored recommendations for achieving fitness goals, optimising sleep, and managing stress. Not only that, but the predictive capabilities of AI empower users to proactively address health concerns, such as detecting potential sleep disorders or alerting users to stress, or irregularities in vital signs.

On a personal level AI-driven wellness wearables revolutionise self-care by harnessing advanced technology to deliver personalised, actionable insights that empower users to take control of their health and well-being in an increasingly dynamic and interconnected world. In this way wearable tech helps to bridge the gap between patients who have access to things like personal trainers or intensive weight loss treatments – and the very many who don’t.

But even while the appetite for personalised experiences continues to grow, AI remains far from a cure-all for the issues around wearable technology and wellness. In fact, it brings many issues of its own.

For one thing, the inner workings of AI algorithms used in fitness tracking apps and devices are often proprietary and not fully disclosed to users. Lack of transparency can make it challenging for users to understand how decisions and recommendations are made. Even when this information is shared, the black box nature of many AI models is bound to leave some users unsatisfied.

This leads into general AI issues around bias and inequality. AI algorithms can inherit biases present in the data they are trained on. If fitness tracking devices are more accurate for certain demographic groups or fitness levels, this could create inequalities in health management recommendations and outcomes. That means that any AI-generated health recommendations should be taken with caution. Misinterpretation of AI-generated advice, such as pushing too hard during workouts or disregarding legitimate medical concerns based on AI recommendations, could lead to injury or worsening health conditions.

To mitigate these risks, it’s important for both users and developers to take steps to ensure responsible and ethical AI use in fitness tracking. This includes implementing robust security measures, transparent data handling practices, clear user education about the limitations of AI, and encouraging a balanced approach that combines AI insights with professional medical advice.

Data concerns

While AI-powered fitness tracking has many benefits, there are also potential risks and concerns associated with its use. For example:

Privacy Concerns: Fitness tracking often involves collecting sensitive personal data, including physical activity, health metrics, and sleep patterns. If this data is not adequately protected, there is a risk of it being exposed, stolen, or used for malicious purposes, leading to potential privacy breaches and identity theft.

Data Security: Storing large amounts of personal health data in digital systems makes them susceptible to hacking and data breaches. Unauthorised access to this information could have serious consequences for individuals’ privacy and even result in their health information being misused.

Data Accuracy: AI relies on accurate data to provide meaningful insights. If fitness tracking devices or apps provide inaccurate data, it could lead to incorrect assessments of health and fitness progress, potentially leading to misguided decisions or behaviours.

Efficacy

People want their health demystified, and companies have a duty to provide that in an honest, tangible and provable way. While fitness trackers and wearables, in general, are becoming more and more mainstream, the validity of these devices in their ability to improve health and fitness, however, has been called into question on more than one occasion.

A study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that fitness trackers came up short. The research suggested that the devices worn by participants (in this case the Fit Core armband) were “less effective at encouraging people to lose weight than simply following a diet and exercise plan”.

The theory put forward by researchers was that people become too reliant on the device to change their health compared to those in the study who simply monitored their exercise and diet themselves and were self-motivated.

There are brands trying to truly connect health and technology, Zepp is a market leader in blending the two ecosystems and Myovolt is also focusing its energies on how their products fit into lifestyles. This collaborative approach will push the sector forward in making sure data is more tangible and graspable – which in turn will benefit the sector long term, letting consumers take back control of their data and use it in the best way possible.

“A great purpose-driven product is one that is easy to use and fits in with the user’s lifestyle. Ease of use equals more use, equals more success for the product.” Steve Leftly: director at Myovolt

Key takeaways:

Brands who keep personalisation at the forefront of their offering will win in the space – consumers want more tailored content that is specific to their needs.

Wearable fitness is here to stay, but gamifying the experience is exploding.

Covid may be less of a threat, but the pull of the home work out remains highAI is the future of fitness tracking but data concerns will abound for some time.

Keeping health data simple is essential for brand success – consumers want health and technology to be seamlessly integrated.