Sorry nerds, the wearables market is a bonafide mess

September 20, 2014

So I’ve spent a fair amount of time testing a number of wearables over the past few weeks. Some of this I’ve done for my own edification, some for my own self-improvement, and all of them because I wanted to better understand the market prior to the launch of the Apple Watch. After over a year of using the likes of Google Glass, Microsoft’s Band, the FitBit Surge, and the Fitbit One, I can safely say that the wearables ecosystem is a fragmented and unreliable quagmire of devices.

 

I don’t doubt the potential of the platform. Juniper research predicts that by 2019, the wearables market will generate almost 53 Billion in revenues. This seems realistic to me. Apple will undoubtedly drive the growth of this category and if the reports are true, Cupertino is expecting big sales when the Apple Watch launches. But let’s face it, by all accounts, the market has yet to mature. Here are the 5 challenges currently facing the wearable marketplace.

 

There Are a Ton of Clunkers Out There

By all accounts, the Samsung Gear, the i.am PULS, the Epson Runsense, Google Glass, and the Under Armour Armour39 were all flat out busts. There are many more out there of course, but these were some of the higher profile devices. Even the new line of Polar trackers couldn’t avoid being panned by the tech press. The unenviable consequence of these misfires is that the general consumer market is left with the impression that wearbles kind of suck and aren’t worth the money.

 

They’re Highly Inaccurate

I’ll be posting a deeper review of my time with the FitBit Surge soon, but for a $250 dollar fitness tracker (which it FitBit’s flagship product) you’d expect a fair amount of accuracy from the device. Nope. Unfortunately that’s not unusual. I tested 3 trackers simultaneously at one point and all of them gave me wildly different readings. For instance, when running, I’d get simultaneous pulse readings of 89 BPM, 132 BPM, and 199 BPM. I once caught the FitBit registering a pulse rate (which varied by a few BPMs over the span of 2 minutes) while the device WASN’T EVEN ON MY BODY. There’s no standard for accuracy in the market and maybe there should be. But for now, the data produced by these devices are highly suspect.

 

Workflow Integration is Garbage

I was shocked how poorly these devices synced via Bluetooth or over WiFi. I’ve written before about my struggles with the Band, and had different mind-numbing experiences with the Surge. At one point my Surge needed a recharge and when it woke up, I needed to manually sync it to get the time updated. It took a couple of tries. If the manufacturers of these wearables are asking users to have to manage these devices as much as I have (and I would consider myself a power user, which your average consumer is not), the market will continue to stagnate.

 

Functionality Is Variable

Most of these devices have a similar feature set, Heart rate, GPS, Step counter, etc., but sometimes even the simplest things are missing. My daughter wanted to have me time her doing a test for school. Guess what? One of my $250 fitness trackers didn’t have a stopwatch or a clock face with a second hand. I needed to use an exercise tracker to time her and then go into the app to delete the workout since it was going to mess up my stats. Inexcusable.

 

The Mythological Doctor/Patient Sync up Just Isn’t There

A lot of ballyhoo has been made about how wearables will improve the doctor patient relationship the data will create a better discussion between both parties. We’re a long way from that day being a reality. I know Apple is beginning to pilot the use of wearables to that end, but despite all the hype that announcement received, it’s a pilot happening in less than 20 hospitals…hardly a revolution. I asked a few physician friends of mine of this was something they were looking forward to, and the responses I received were all similar in spirit. Said one doctor to me (with a sentiment that mirrored others I spoke to), “I don’t want your fitness data in my EMR. I don’t have time to read it and I’m not your personal trainer. I’ll know the minute you get on the scale if you’ve been working out.”

 

There’s a ton of potential in the wearables market and more pilots need to be encouraged. But I chuckle every time I read about how one of these devices is radically transforming the industry. The tech just isn’t there yet.

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