Our Wearables Are Lying to Us
If a new study out of the Stanford University School of Medicine is to be trusted, wearables might have a bit of explaining to do. For all of those fitness trackers we strap to our wrists, waists, heads, and elsewhere, it seems that not a one of them is totally accurate at providing us with the information that we’re specifically asking them to provide.
The study looked at seven different wristband activity monitors and found that all seven were pretty awful at tracking how many calories are burned during the course of a day.
“People are basing life decisions on the data provided by these devices,” Euan Ashley, DPhil, FRCP, professor of cardiovascular medicine, of genetics and of biomedical data science at Stanford, said of the wristbands.
The study, which was published online May 24 in the Journal of Personalized Medicine, had a diverse group of 60 volunteers wear devices that included the Apple Watch, Basis Peak, Fitbit Surge, Microsoft Band, Mio Alpha 2, PulseOn and the Samsung Gear S2. None of the devices were able to track energy expenditure accurately. The most accurate device—the Apple Watch—was still off by an average of 27 percent. The least accurate—Samsung’s S2—was off by up to 93 percent.
According to researchers, they look for error rates on these kinds of devices to be less than 10 percent when not used in a medical setting to be considered efficient.
While calorie counting was far off, researchers did find that six of the seven fitness trackers recorded heart rate data with an error rate of less than 5 percent. Factors such as skin color and body mass index were found to impact the results of the measurements.
But have the bonds of trust already been broken?
It’s a tough question, but the answer is incredibly important if we’re talking about the future of this market. Consumers should care if their wearables, which promise to deliver accurate health-related information, are misleading them—intentionally or not. These devices are supposed to help us track a number of vital statistics, and even if they’re incredible at doing just that in all but one statistic, that’s still not good enough. And, honestly, it's disheartening that some of the biggest names in consumer technology have allowed their wearables to fall behind this far. Sure, they have their own metrics for measuring how accurate they are, but clearly those metrics aren't getting the job done.
Consumers deserve better. But they likely don’t know about the shortcomings of these devices. In a world dominated by political coverage and championship sports season, a report out of the Stanford School of Medicine (unfortunately) isn’t a headline grabber. So consumers are going to continue to wear these products, even if they aren’t proven to be as effective as consumers believe they are.
And that’s where the major problem lies: lack of knowing.
Consumers already have a rocky relationship with wearables. If you’ll remember, wearables had a bit of a moment at the end of last year and even into the start of 2017. The market, at the time, was considered cold and underperforming as the company at the head of the market, Fitbit, experienced multiple rounds of layoffs.
They weren’t alone though. The explosion in popularity of fitness trackers and smartwatches resulted in countless companies and products launching and then quickly folding. The market became so oversaturated and left a poor taste in people’s mouths.
Piling on with “top-line” wearables that fail at doing the very tasks they were built to do would be a certain death wish. It falls on the manufacturers of these devices to develop technologies that are more accurate.
Looking back on it though, the hype about the death of the wearables market—we apologize—might’ve been juuust a little overstated, at least from a strictly-sales-perspective. According to a market analysis done earlier this year by the International Data Corporation, total shipments reached 102.4 million units last year, which was up 25 percent from 2015.
So, wearables have re-shifted their focus and found their way back into consumers’ favor, for now, with an added focus on health and wellness and gadgets that incorporate style and fashion into their design on top of functionality.
But, again, if those devices aren’t providing information that is anywhere close to accurate, it’s not going to matter. Consumers will lose faith in the wearables ecosystem and the market could cease to exist.
At present, the death of wearables might be a little overstated, but the future of the market is going to depend on how accurate these devices really are.