Use of hyperbole is an indefatigable tactic to draw attention, and seems to be the tactic of choice for so many journalists. The latest assault on our senses is this headline from the New York Times, “The Gadget Apocalypse is Upon Us.” The author of this article contends wearables are on their way out, specifically those in the fitness sector. As a member of a working group that’s been tracking employer incorporation of wearables into corporate wellness programs for the past few years, such a claim was successful in gaining our group’s attention.

We quickly debated amongst ourselves and offer the following points of response:

  1. While the “newness” may be waning, wearables are still alive and well. Based on Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory, it’s likely the innovators, early adopters, and perhaps even the early majority groups have moved onto other things. But the flattening of wearable device shipments hints that there is still potential adoption to be gained by the late majority and laggards groups.
  1. Employer use of wearable technology to support corporate wellness programs for their employees may bolster and sustain use, albeit at a slower pace than the industry initially experienced in the consumer marketplace. We’ve been conducting interviews with employers for the past year and identified numerous examples demonstrating that incorporating wearables into a broader wellness initiative or a series of focused challenges seems to sustain use of wearables beyond the six-month period when many independent consumers (solo users) seem to stop using them.
  1. While many of the early entrants to the fitness wearables market may have been acquired or seem to be on the ropes, the world of wearables remains a rapidly evolving domain. Wearable device manufacturers are engineering more balanced features, function, and fashion within a reasonable price point, allowing the proliferation of new devices to continue. Consolidation and more strategic positioning within the marketplace is only natural as device manufacturers gain a better understanding of their end-users. They are also capitalizing on the opportunities available through business-to-business markets and partnerships with health care and research organizations, which could spur more innovation and add stability to the wearables market over the long term.
  1. In our assessment, there is more legitimacy and intentionality in the use of wearables now than during its initial novelty phase. With an increase in awareness around issues like sleep deprivation and prolonged sitting, people are using their wearables to support them in achieving health and well-being goals beyond step tracking. Users who are using wearables to support a healthy lifestyle are learning that their initial frustration might be attributed to not using the right device, and they are willing to experiment and try others. Additionally, some initial users stopped using the devices once the novelty waned but are now charging up and reengaging with their wearable as family members, friends, and coworkers start using them for the first time. With device manufacturers constantly tweaking their products to make them easier to use, former users are upgrading their wearables and new users are getting engaged.
  1. Wearable fitness devices are expanding well beyond physical activity and heart rate monitoring. Some of the latest devices also track sleep quantity and quality, perceived stress levels, postural alignment, and mental or emotional well-being. As these features and more are integrated into wearables, they draw new users and create new purpose and promise.

Our conclusion is that headlines about a “wearables apocalypse” are an exaggeration.  This market is shifting and stabilizing, and it seems to us the promise and potential of wearables is only just begun.

Jessica Grossmeier, HERO

Jack Bastable, CBIZ

Lidia Nelkovski, Interactive Health Inc.

Philip Swayze, HUB International

Trent Tangen, HealthCheck360

©2022 Health Enhancement Research Organization 'HERO Health'

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