The Three Weeks Problem: The Real Challenge for Wearables

Glass, FuelBands, FitBits and Why We Don’t Wear Them

Quick show of hands: how many of you are currently wear a FitBit, FuelBand or another “Wearable” device? Keep your hand up if you’ve been wearing for more than a month.

I suspect there aren’t a lot of hands in the air. Why? Last year, all of my friends were wearing Nike+ FuelBands. Now I can only think of two friends who I see consistently wear them. I suspect this is one of the reasons of why Nike laid off members of the FuelBand team.

It’s not that the FuelBand — or any other wearable device — is inherently flawed. In fact, I think the FuelBand, FitBit and Jawbone Up are all excellent health devices. But despite their benefits, it seems like we fall out of the habit of wearing them. I know that after I broke my FuelBand, I never got motivated to replace it. And my FitBit, given to me by their PR team? I lost it, and never went out to buy a new one. I have other working wearables that I just don’t use anymore.

I’ve asked other investors and entrepreneurs about wearables, and they have all seen this trend. They’ve even mentioned a time frame: Three Weeks. That’s about how long somebody keeps a wearable on their wrist or their face before they forget to put it back on.

The Three Weeks Problem boils down to this: consumers like the idea of wearables, but fail to get into the habit of wearing them. James Temple over at Re/Code points this out in his recent article on the FuelBand layoffs:

While a surge of companies have hit the market with all manner of digital health trackers in recent months, it’s still unclear how much demand there is on the part of mainstream consumers. Industry insiders, at least some and at least quietly, acknowledge that usage drops off steeply within a few weeks or months.
Three weeks. Seriously.

The Three Weeks Problem is a serious one. For some reason, we’re not motivated enough to keep wearing them, fix them when they break, or replace them when we lose them.

Is it that they don’t provide enough value? Do they no longer confer the social status they used to convey? Are they simply too bulky to be worn on a daily basis? Wearable companies need to answer these questions if they want to figure out the fundamental reasons behind the Three Weeks Problem.

These devices really do have the capability to improve our lives, yet until they can find a way to transform from wearable into habit, there will be trouble for the entire wearable device market. Let’s not even get started with some of the more controversial wearables, like Google Glass.

I absolutely believe that consumers want these devices. I absolutely believe that consumers can embrace devices. After all, many of us wear watches, necklaces and rings every single day. I suspect that’s why Apple’s focused on building a watch — it’s something people are already in the habit of wearing.

If wearable makers like Nike and Google really believes these devices are the future (I do), the, they need to focus on turning these devices into habits first. Until that happens, wearables will remain in the niche.

[Motivation, habit formation and the mechanics of human rewards are all subjects I cover in my upcoming book, Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention (HarperOne, early 2015). I’m going to write a follow-up on how we can turn wearables into popular habits, but I hope you’ll sign up for updates on the book at or follow @Captivology as well.]

(P.S. — I’ll give you a hint: the reason we wear watches and wedding rings isn’t because they’re habits. We have far more intrinsic motivations for wearing them.)