From L to R, assorted wearable fitness trackers over the years from Microsoft, Withings, Jawbone, Fitbit, Basis, and Garmin (Photo by Joby Sessions/T3 Magazine/Future via Getty Images)
TECHNOLOGY

Wellness Wars: The State of the Wearable Tech Industry

Amazon’s Halo View is the most recent addition to the competitive war for your wrist that features names like FitBit, Apple, and Whoop.

There was a time — not too long ago, actually — when health-minded individuals strapped on wearable fitness gadgets only to count their calories, track their steps, and gauge their heart rates.

Those days are long gone.

Whether it’s Apple, Whoop, Amazon, or Google-owned FitBit, the world of wearable wellness is about more than step-counting. It’s an all-out lifestyle assessment — from activity to sleep to stress and beyond.

Notably, Amazon has fired the most recent shot in this ongoing, ever-expanding battle. The retail giant has been in the game for over a year now, and recently announced its Halo View, a follow-up to the Halo band that it launched last September. With a bevy of new features, Halo View has raised the stakes in an industry trained on offering holistic guidance for not just a daily workout, but everyday life.

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The Wearable Life

In true Amazon fashion, Halo has taken an existing product — in this case, a wearable fitness band — and transformed it into a subscription service compatible with everything else Amazon has to offer.

The downside? As “subscription service” would indicate, Halo’s flashy extras cost money. While Halo View will retail at $80, access to many of those additional features will require a $4 monthly Halo subscription. Less than $50 per year won’t be a dealbreaker for everyone, so Amazon is quite likely to find plenty of takers.

Halo Nutrition and Halo Fitness are the new topline offerings. Halo Nutrition, which will not be available until 2022, will include recipes and meal planning, and, naturally can be paired with Alexa to perform everyday tasks like adding curated items to a shopping list.

Halo Fitness, which is coming later in 2021, aims to compete directly with Apple Fitness, hopping on the professional workout bandwagon with classes and yoga sessions. Users’ Halo stats are displayed on-screen for an extra boost of motivation.

Other brands have stepped outside the realm of the actual band as well. Whoop supplements its band with a smart apparel line complete with built-in pockets to store the device so that it does not necessarily need to be worn as a wristband at all.

FitBit, an established name in the industry dating back to 2007 — the Apple Watch didn’t debut in any form until 2015 — offers an ECG test that users can download and share with their doctor. Garmin, another member of the older guard, gears its Venu 2 model to outdoorsy adventures rather than simply gym rats, offering an altimeter, compass, and functionality at up to 164 feet underwater.

The Social Game

Personal fitness and social media have become natural partners, and the leaders in the game recognize its benefits. Influencer partnerships are nothing new, and they’ve expanded each brand’s reach much farther than its natural audience.

For now, FitBit can claim to have reeled in the biggest name, peppering its Instagram page (710,000 followers) with content from Will Smith (55.5 million). Smith himself has added paid videos to his own feed, each with well over a million views.

Apple Fitness (108,000 followers) has gone with multiple influencers with less wall-to-wall name recognition by comparison, tapping British actor and comedian Stephen Fry (575,000) and a team of certified Apple+ trainers. Similar to Peloton, these trainers offer virtual workouts, with up to 25 new ones added each week, and have a chance to establish themselves as influencers in their own right.

As for Garmin, it has unleashed its team of IG micro-influencers, though as the name suggests, they mainly have lower follower counts. Instead, Garmin has staked its claim in event partnerships including the Boston Marathon and longer-form video storytelling.

The Fitness Tech Trajectory

The market for wearable fitness trackers was estimated at $23.17 billion in 2020 and it is expected to reach $50.95 billion by 2026, according to a report from Research and Markets. The report cites a “growing awareness toward health and fitness” and a “rising need for user-friendly smart gadgets” as two of the trend’s key drivers.

Having massive companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google in on the game only helps.

Startups like Whoop are ready to compete, however. In August, the company announced a $200 million Series F fundraise, giving the company an estimated valuation of $3.6 billion. They’re a leading example of the idea that the industry doesn’t have to belong solely to the long-established giants, and have build an impressive list of athlete endorsements that includes Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes.

In fact, researchers at the University of Arizona have 3D-printed a wearable device of their own that can run continuously without ever having to charge.

This is not to say there aren’t potential pitfalls related to the growth and development of the wearable tech space, however. In September, a data breach exposed 61 million user records from Apple, FitBit, and others. In addition to usernames, the breach includes figures like height, weight, and date of birth. The reason for the epic fail was painfully simple — the exposed database was not password-protected.

Then, there’s the report that came out this week that the US Department of Justice and authorities in Australia are looking into potential antitrust violations regarding Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of FitBit. The investigation is understood to be looking into privacy issues and how Google plans to use consumer data.

Still, the industry’s notable upside remains the source of the biggest buzz. With Amazon’s Halo launch coming just in time for the holiday season, we’re witnessing another major shot fired in the war for market share. As Amazon appears to have caught up to its competition, all sides will now have to get back in the lab to figure out the next integration in the wearable wellness wars.

And just like a mass of road-racers in the last click of a 5K, this pack of competitors isn’t slowing down.

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