Smartphones have become a "need" for many people in recent years. I mean, how many people do you know that does not have a smartphone? The smartphone industry has hit a pretty long plateau in the past few years. Most smartphones are coming out with the same specs, the same design and for the most part the same features. This is leading to customers upgrading with less frequency. In fact, recent studies have shown that customers on average are upgrading about once every three years now. Compared to about once a year, just a few short years ago. And because of customers upgrading less frequently, it's leading to the manufacturers looking elsewhere to sell products and make a profit. That next product seems to be wearables – as well as virtual reality. Now wearables aren't new, they've been around for a few years. But now they are everywhere. At CES (the Consumers Electronics Show) back in January, you couldn't walk 10 feet without passing a wearable or two or ten. They are literally everywhere and do all sorts of things. Although the most common wearables are fitness trackers and smartwatches right now. But are wearables a "need" as much as smartphones are?
Defining a wearable is basically anything that you can wear. So that includes smartwatches, fitness trackers, even clothing, and much more. Fitness trackers have been around longer, and are much more popular – largely due to their lower price tags (in fact the Xiaomi Mi Band is around for under $20, severely undercutting Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin and a few of the other heavy hitters in this space). Right now, Fitbit has a pretty big strangle hold on the market, with competitors like Jawbone, Garmin and even Xiaomi, looking to take some of that market share away from Fitbit. What makes fitness trackers unique from smartwatches is the fact that they can count your steps, show you how many calories you've burned, track your sleep and so much more – all depending on the model you pick up. Most smartwatches can do fitness tracking as well. But it's pretty limited. For instance, the Moto 360 – and most Android Wear watches – use Google Fit. Now Google Fit can track your steps, your running, bike rides and such. It can also track your heart rate. But how accurate is it? Not that accurate. Move your arm just a little bit, and you've added a bunch more steps to your total. Google Fit isn't perfect, but it's a fairly new service from Google that was made in the wearable age. It's getting better and better, and is actually pretty useful at times. But as we've said, it's far from being accurate.
For those that go to the gym at least 4 times a week, you probably consider yourself a "frequent gym goer", considering you go more days than you don't go, that would make sense. Fitness trackers are great, but not all that great for these frequent gym goers. And there's a few reasons for that. Let's take the higher-end models from Fitbit, their models with heart-rate sensors. They are great for doing cardio. Whether you're on the stair-master, elliptical, stationary bike or treadmill, it's great for tracking your steps and your heart rate allowing you to see where your heart rate is. But how accurate is it? Sure it's more accurate than the heart rate sensor on most smartphones, and even a smartwatch, but it's not going to be 100% accurate. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. It's going to be tough to find something that can give a 100% accurate heart rate that you can wear. It's the same thing when it comes to steps. A Fitbit, or Jawbone's UP fitness trackers are much more accurate than your smartwatch. But they still are not 100% accurate.
Not everyone goes to the gym to do cardio. In fact, a lot of people find cardio boring – I can't blame them on that front. So when it comes to strength training, most fitness trackers are useless. All they can do is track your heart rate. They can't determine how many calories you've burned by doing that particular strength training exercise. Even if you put it in manually. Now while Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin can't do much when it comes to strength training, but the Microsoft Band can. With the Microsoft Band, you are able to have it record your workouts – including strength training – and it will show you your heart rate during that workout as well as how many calories you burned. Again it's not going to be 100% accurate, but it's definitely better than nothing.
Fitness trackers are great, but they aren't necessary to get in shape or even get into doing fitness. It's a great tool to use, especially with their tracking of calories being eaten vs burned, to help you lose weight or gain weight, depending on what your goal is. But there's still a long way to go for these fitness trackers. Especially for those that go to the gym nearly everyday. However on the flip side, they are great for those that want to be a bit more active, or those that want to shed a few pounds and get back in shape. Since they are great for tracking your cardio exercises (even things like dancing and playing sports) accurately. Or as accurately as they can.
For those that are a bit more into fitness, and go to workout several times a week, lifting the heavy weights to get those gains. Fitness trackers won't do much for you. That's the unfortunate reality right now. If you're serious about tracking your calories going in and out, you'll need to do it the old fashioned way. Writing down the food you eat, as well as the exercises you're doing and what's actually being burned. Now Under Armor does have a few apps that are great for working out. Including one that you can jot down your exercises along with the repetitions, sets and weight that you are doing them at. And that's about it.
Not to mention durability. My Fitbit Charge HR actually broke in half, about 5 months after buying it. Now Fitbit was kind enough to replace it for free. But this shouldn't have happened. This may not have been the result of going to the gym 6-7 times a week, but it likely didn't help the cause for the Fitbit Charge HR breaking in half. This isn't just an issue with Fitbit trackers either, as we've seen this issue crop up with a few other popular fitness trackers, which usually get replaced by the company for free – always nice to see that type of customer service support. But this is something that desperately needs to be fixed. A fitness tracker shouldn't snap in half just 5 months into its life cycle. These should last for at least 2 years before needing to be replaced.
What I'm trying to say here is that while smartwatches are gimmicky to some people, and rightfully so, fitness trackers are also gimmicky. Like smartwatches, fitness trackers do work really well for some use-types. For example, if you are training to run a marathon, you'll be just fine. Similar to smartwatches are great for those that love technology – like the majority of you that are probably reading this – but they aren't going to be mainstream. Fitness trackers are much more mainstream though (ever go to the gym and try to pair your Bluetooth headphones, only to find there are hundreds of Fitbit's nearby?).
Back to our opening question. Are fitness trackers as much of a need as smartphones are? In short, no. But that is likely going to change in the next few years. With the cost of parts for these trackers going down, and more competition emerging, fitness trackers are getting cheaper and cheaper. Which is going to lead to more and more people buying them. Even if they don't need them. They are going to love being able to track their steps when they go for a walk, or their early morning run. Not to mention tracking their heart rate throughout the day and night. Fitness trackers are not a need, but definitely a "want" for most people right now, and it'll likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.