Walk 10,000 Steps? Spend $10,000 Dollars? It’s All the Same to your New Fitness Band

The set of people who want to know how many steps they’ve walked each day is finite. Chances are, if you’re counting steps you already own a FitBit, Garmin, Samsung or other fitness wearable.

Broadening that world means giving those devices another raison d’etre. Most have added a slew or additional analytics including O2 blood levels, heart rate, GPS, altimeters, stress level monitoring, and more. All super-interesting and cool, but not game changers for anyone who’s not a personal performance geek.

Now we’re seeing a trend to marrying fitness and payments. Companies like NXP and Fit Pay are making it easier to incorporate the contact-less payments into s a slew of wearable and IoT devices. FitBit’s Iconic and Garmin’s vivoactive3 answer the cry “when the going gets tough, the fit go shopping.” Both support payments directly by tapping your watch-face on an NFC enabled register (usually bearing the symbol in the graphic above.)

Not sure whether this will expand the universe of people who will pay with a wearable band, but it will definitely give new meaning to the words “sweat equity”.

I’ve been wearing my new Garmin vivoactive3 for a week in search of a “payment moment”. For the first part of the week I was skiing and terrified to take my watch out of its downhill lap counting to enable payments. But that’s ok because the slope-side restaurants were not mobile enabled. The two other times I could have used the my band, the lines were long, the signs around the POS system were too small to easily read, and I was not psychologically prepared to hold up the line as I fumbled with contact-less payments.

While it’s sensible to use something that wear everyday to replace cash, card swiping, inserting or tapping on credit cards and phones it’s still not a common sight. Estimates are that only 5% of US iPhones have Apple Pay activated, contrasting with 11% of international iPhones. What’s the holdup?

I called Mike Feibus, USA Today contributor and tech analyst. “ If you’ve walked into a store and tried to use a device payment system you’ll find the availability of payment systems that accept the various xPay’s (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, Fitbit Pay) is improving.” But, says Feibus, “ it takes the various xPay’s some time to sign on the individual banks.”

Karl Weaver, a wearable payments expert, paints an even thornier picture. “The USA,” he says, “are in fact using mostly Samsung Gear S3 and Apple iWatch, series 3 Smartwatches (which both include NFC contact-less functionality to perform a mobile payment transaction on the wrist). The more watches out there with that capability, the more POS will be installed with the capability.

“Think Costco,” says Weaver. “ You need both sides ready, mobile devices as well as the terminals, Weaver went on to explain the various inconsistencies between things like the Apple iWatch, series 3 and the 4G LTE functionality outside the USA. While the watch has been a critical success, international payments are difficult. “”Samsung Gear 3, offers Weaver, “is truly a solidly built SMARTWATCH but it doesn’t appeal to women because it is too ruggedized to appeal to fashion conscious women.”

Seems to me, that Garmin and Fitbit see an early adopters market in the sports/fitness enthusiasts. And, while in the long haul smart watches will be the victor, both Garmin and Fitbit know that their clients will trade off fashion for performance and the convenience of built in payments. We already know that they’re already adopters.

Wearable payment systems have a lot going for them. No fishing for phones in your pocket or handbag required. You can leave the credit card home. Because you’re wearing the payment device it’s pretty hard to steal. And because digital payments are immediately recorded the time to remedy instances of fraud are lowered. A few bumps and hurdles to cross, but waving your wrist to pay for something beats scratching your nose. At least for now.