Wearable Fitness in the Social Age

The Wearable Fitness Craze

With one in ten Americans over 18 owning some sort of activity tracker, wearable fitness devices are gaining significant popularity and are the newest necessity for your everyday life. An industry forecaster has forecasted that sales of wearable technology will grow from $8.6 billion in 2012 to nearly $30 billion by 2018. Such promises of growth have prompted several companies to enter the market in hopes of capturing the increasing demand. Notably these include Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike Samsung, and most recently Microsoft. If you are unfamiliar with the gadgets out there, take a look at this article, which compares the up and coming wearable technology. Microsoft’s product looks to operate with all operating systems, connect to social accounts, while monitoring heart rate, calories, stress, and even sun exposure. Clearly, companies are increasingly looking to create a differentiated, seamlessly integrated experience with a somewhat fashionable look. Fitbit took the design to a new level by recently teaming up with Tory Burch to make fitness into fashion. With an overwhelming amount of options on the market, consumers look to design, the abilities, and ease of adaption in choosing a fitness device. However what can surpass that is the social aspect that allows users to create a team, keeping them on track.

A look at some wearable fitness devices

A look at some wearable fitness devices

The Power of a Team

While the technology alone is cool enough, it is the social aspect of these wearable devices that have helped the growth of this market. It is no secret that research shows the best way to stay committed and motivated in a fitness program is to work out with friends. Wearable fitness does just that by leveraging technology and virtual teams on social networks that help you reach your personal goals faster. Data from companies such as Fitbit and Jawbone have shown that the social aspects of interacting with fellow users through taunts or encouragement or seeing the activity of others, prompts users to be more active. Specifically, Fitbit found that users who join with friends are 27% more active and for every friend added to your team, your activity increases by 750 steps a day. Likewise, both Nike and Jawbone stats show that the greater your network on the app the greater your activity level. Similarly, with customized settings and goals, many devices alert you to your daily progress by sending updates, motivational words, and even advice. Additionally, these bands allow users to connect several different apps one may already be using, such as a food app, to integrate into the device’s app, or vice versa if consumers use a separate app for recording specialized activities.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.57.07 PM

Is wearable fitness a fad or can the social aspect keep it afloat?

However, though the social aspect motivates and holds people accountable, as always, exercise is a tricky activity to push people to do. Once people stop wearing their bands, many stop going the extra mile (pun intended). In fact, in a 2014 study, it was found that more than half of those who owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. One third of those people give up their device within six months.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.46.14 PM

Pushing to better understand the habits that make up your lifestyle and the areas of wellness in which you are lacking, is the aim of every wearable fitness device. However, without network effects and being able to have a team on your respective device, can wearable fitness continue to take hold? Furthermore, while posting your fitness goal on Facebook or Twitter is sure to hold you more accountable, it seems the main goal should be to leverage the network within a device’s own community. Lastly, there are currently limits to these trackers in the effective ability to record certain exercises like weight lifting, swimming, or spinning. Users can get discouraged if they are being active but that isn’t translating on their device. Perhaps one indication of the difficulty of this market, is that Nike recently announced its exit from the wearable fitness industry. Surprisingly, Nike had one of the most active fitness communities in Nike+, yet it wasn’t enough to keep them in the hardware business as they faced competition with more seamless tech giants.

 Where to?

With all this said, I think (and hope!) wearable fitness will continue to evolve. Until there is more cross-platform collaboration between wearable devices, users will be restricted mainly to their device community, restricting the social aspect significantly. If gyms continue to add ways in which to better incorporate them into the experience and bands look to become more sophisticated and seamless, wearable fitness can hold more traction and effectively gain users by pushing the motivating social experience.


  1. Good post! I completely see the social value that these wearable devices create. They take the offline social aspect of exercising into an online realm. People can be following their workout routines in their own times and yet be able to compete with friends. I have a roommate who’s entire family is on a one month fitness challenge, and they’re tracking it through a wearable device.
    To your point, I think what these wearable devices hit on is the influence of user-generated content, which has researched to influence purchase behavior more than any other form of marketing. I do agree that these devices are here to stay. Once they evolve into creating an ecosystem for users, the cost of letting go of a device will be higher. Will be interesting to see if gyms can capitalize and create communities within their gym using these devices.

  2. I really enjoyed your post, Megan! I work at BC and as part of their Healthy You program, they provide Fitbits to their employees. Each office competes for the most steps. As you mention, this social aspect is a great motivator for each person to contribute steps toward their team’s goal.

    I don’t think wearable fitness is a fad. I think we will be seeing many more features in the future, including increased social use.

    I had no idea Tory Burch had stylish bands for Fitbit! I’m definitely going to get one! One of my gripes about my Fitbit Flex has been that it doesn’t complement work attire.

  3. Great post Megan! I didn’t think all that much about the relationship between social media and wearable fitness, and I appreciated that you brought this up, and have gave some very nice thoughts on that.
    I never wear a fitness band because I think they don’t look very nice, I mean fashion, I still see them as a part of my accessories. It’s so good to hear from you that Fitbit is teaming up with Tory Burch to make their device into fashion!! I’m so look forward to that!

  4. Loved this post!! I have always been so interested with the fitness bands but have yet to purchase one of my own. Honestly I think it is because there are so many options to choose from. It seems like Fitbits have become the most popular choice but I am definitely at a loss as which brand is actually the best choice. I also had no idea that Tory Burch started making bands for Fitbits!! Definitely a game changer. I like how you made the connection with these bands to social media, because I think that is definitely a huge part of their appeal. The fact that you can connect with your friends and share data via the fitness bands is huge and definitely helps in personal motivation. As to whether or not wearable bands are a fad, I am honestly not sure. I definitely have friends that have purchased a band and have only consistently used it for the first few months or so. But then again, there is definitely a potential market out there for people who will use them consistently and be committed to their fitness bands in the long run. Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Really nice post. I have yet to decide whether wearables are a fad or will represent a meaningful contribution to computing. I see arguments on both sides. Of course, I could also see a scenario in the not too distant future where your smartphone basically becomes the wearable.

  6. Great post Megan! I personally am the proud owner of a Fitbit and while l love the step logging and the diet tracking aspects, I have to say I haven’t really made much use of the social features built into the interface. I find that the problem for me is that I can’t seem to cobble together an appropriate social community that would motivate me to share my progress. I agree that using Facebook or Twitter seems like kind of an over share…my FB network is really too big for the sharing to be meaningful for most of them them or for me. And on the flip side, I find that the Fitbit-only community is too anonymous – none of my friends use the Fitbit social feature, even the ones that have fitbits! So communicating with other fitbit users who are strangers isn’t very interesting or motivating for me.

    In the long run I’d imagine that to remain relevant and rise above the faddish reputation, these wearables will have to find a way to carve a new social community somewhere between the personal connection of Facebook and the affinity of random fitbit (or other wearable device) users. I think the ability to build such an engaging yet relevant network of user who feel connected is going to ultimately be the make or break issue for wearable fitness tech.

  7. Nice post! I would be interested to know what causes the users to abandon or not utilize fully their wearable devices as such understandings of user behaviors shall help the developers to build and expand the desired user community. I myself was considering buying one wearable device earlier but eventually gave up because 1) I was unsure whether I could keep tracking my daily activities and what I could benefit from knowing that and 2) not really a fashionable item that I would like to wear daily. Though I haven’t worn one so may not speak for the users. A few other possible reasons may be that most devices have difficulty translating certain kinds of activities and thus discourage a portion of exercisers as you suggested. The device maker may need to overcome such physical limitations to firstly get more users on board (the cooperation with Tory Burch was a good sign) and then to enhance the user experience to retain them. Anyway, I am excited to see its future development!

%d bloggers like this: