Fitness Trackers — A Shifting Equilibrium

With the growing market of wearables and fitness trackers, are we using technology to become a more health-conscious society or merely partaking in a temporary fashion trend?

When Apple’s CEO took the stage at WSJDL on Monday, he provided plenty of insight into the future of the Cupertino giant. Aside from the official release date of the Apple TV 4, Tim Cook hinted at the future of the car, more specifically, car software and autonomous driving. Unsurprisingly, he did not talk about Apple’s rumored self-driving car, dubbed Project Titan, which is expected to hit American roadways before the turn of the decade. However, the most interesting information came from Apple’s newest product line: The Apple Watch.

Since the launch of the company’s wearable, Apple has been silent on the amount of units sold, claiming this is “competitive information.” Regardless of the numbers, there is no escaping the fact that the Cupertino kids are spearheading the way in the smart watch industry. Since the release of the Apple Watch, it is estimated that the wearable industry has doubled in size. With competitors rushing to enter the market, there are now fitness trackers available across all major platforms (Apple, Android, Windows, and Samsung [with their proprietary Tizon OS]). In addition to the original market brands (like Fitbit, Garmin, and Pebble) that existed before the major companies made their debut, this makes it cheaper and easier than ever for anyone to obtain a smart band/smartwatch/fitness tracker.

With the humanistic desire-turned-need for the latest technology, is the wearable industry making us more health conscious, causing a shifting equilibrium in an otherwise stereotypical obese America or because of our need for the latest technology, is this merely a fad?

This question first popped into my head while I was at a bus terminal in Phoenix, Arizona. I had just gotten off of an exhausting (but also exciting) shift in the ER. I began listening to a WatchAware podcast where the hosts discussed the potential gains from wearable fitness trackers like the Microsoft Band and the Apple Watch, which motivate you to get up and move throughout the day. I instinctively looked my Apple Watch. It had been over a month since I received it and I began to reflect on how my eating and exercise habits had changed. I could certainly agree with the podcast hosts: This is one piece of technology that can change the people’s lifestyles. It has for me. This is the longest I’ve ever stuck to a good diet filled with exercise. However, any person who understands good science knows a single variable or single participant is complete blasphemy!

It doesn’t take more than a simple Google search to understand just how much wearables are changing lives — in the classroom, in the office, and in the health department. It also doesn’t take more than another Google search to understand how popular fast food chains, like McDonald’s, are losing revenue and profit.

Within 2015 alone, McDonald’s has had to close roughly 700 locations worldwide, after loosing 30% in profit during the first quarter of the year. The Golden Arches are losing ground as a result of other options available to the consumer. So are these alternatives choices that are being made by the consumer supporting a healthy lifestyle? Is America beginning to lose that image of an obese nation?

It seems that McDonald’s is not the only passenger feeling the jet lag. According to Business Insider, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Pepsi are all playing catch-up to what may be a shift in consumer health choices, doing away with children’s menus and offering drinks with reduced sodium and sugar. However, one similarity all four of these companies have in common when compared to other fast food chains like Dominos and Starbucks is their lack of convergence with technology. These chains have long had mobile apps available for the iOS and Android market and have also taken their business another step further. With Dominoes, you can order a pizza on Twitter just by tweeting @dominos a pizza emoji 🍕. With Starbucks, users have long been able to use their phone to pay, ditching the need of searching for a card, cash, or a wallet altogether. You can become an exclusive digital rewards member, earning special discounts, free items (such as edible treats and music from iTunes) and, be one of the first to try out new products. And did I mention that you can skip the lines filled with annoying “Rich White Girls” by ordering for pickup ahead of time?

This all sounds great but, when we factor in technology, this changes the game. As humans, we seem to have certain underlying needs — a need to feel accomplished, to belong, be understood, accepted, heard, and be able to proclaim ourselves to the world. A lot of this is done by our sense in fashion, which not only shows off our sense in taste but, our monetary wealth. This is commonly exposed through a fresh pair of kicks, a set of Ray Bands, the newest gadget in one hand, Starbucks in another, and now a wearable on our wrist.

The Apple Watch displaying a workout-in-progress

Many of today’s fitness trackers have a certain sex appeal. Their design appeals to us; otherwise we would not wear them. Whether is it a minimalistic device with no screen, a round stainless steel bezel with an expensive leather loop, or a rose-gold anodized aluminum chassis, these are devices we wear all the time. They are a fashion accessory that we promote. It shows our value to the world, our uniqueness, our style.

Technology is no doubt the way of the future. Wearables are consumer’s entrance to the Internet of Things (IoT) marketplace. Just as computers have now been (mostly) replaced by mobile devices, it is possible to see a time where our mobile devices become obsolete, replaced by a screen worn (or even implanted) on our bodies. With autonomous machines and IoT doing more for us than ever before, the need to move in order to accomplish tasks is becoming less and less, meaning we’ll have to move more during other times if we want to fill up the progress rings on our fitness device. So if it comes to a time where wearable devices become a common item for everyone, will they still serve as a motivator to maintain a healthy lifestyle or lose that value as our social fads evolve to something greater?