Mobility

Wearables have a dirty little secret: 50% of users lose interest

There's a little-known fact about wearables that manufacturers don't advertise to consumers: Most people lose interest within a few months.
 
nike fuelband se.jpg
Nike Fuelband SE
 Photo: Nike
Tech wearables, particularly those for health and fitness, fail to keep the interest of users for more than a few months. A survey of 6,223 US adults revealed that one in ten consumers age 18 and over owns a modern activity tracker such as Jawbone, Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband or Misfit Wearables. Yet, more than half of the survey’s respondents said that they no longer use their activity tracker, and a third of those stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.

The survey was conducted by Endeavour Partners and the results were published last month in a white paper, “Inside Wearables: How the Science of Human Behavior Change Offers the Secret to Long-Term Engagement.” The goal of the paper is to help the manufacturers of wearables learn how to make their products more enticing, and therefore, more successful.

Dan Ledger, principal at Endeavour Partners, said the fast-growing popularity of wearables was evident at this year’s CES, with more than 10 new wearable devices introduced from manufacturers such as Sony, Pebble, Meta, LG, Garmin and Razer. About 90 percent of these new wearables were activity trackers designed to be worn on the user’s wrist, showing the strength of that particular segment of the wearables market.

“The wearables that are very successful are the ones that are designed to solve a very specific problem for someone that a smartphone isn’t doing,” Ledger said.

Don’t make an ugly wearable

Having the right design ethic is crucial. Bill Geiser, CEO of Metawatch, spent 20 years designing health and fitness wearables for Fossil. Geiser said that it comes down to one fact as to whether someone continues to use a wearable – the design aesthetics.  Geiser said, “If nobody wants to wear it, is it really wearable?”

131220_NIKEFUELBAND_T0U4219_original.jpg
Nike+ Fuelband SE
 Photo: Nike
 Ledger said about Geiser, “Bill’s whole thesis is that you can have the greatest product in the world but if it doesn’t have the right design aesthetic, no one is going to wear it more than a week.”

The white paper addresses the challenges that wearables companies are dealing with, including the need for products to fit well, be comfortable, and compatible with lifestyle. This can be as simple as a product being waterproof, since it’s essential to be able to shower with a wearable if it requires being worn 24/7 for accurate data.




The psychology of wearing wearables

Behavioral psychology also plays a strong role in long-term adoption of wearables by the consumer. “They’re not factors that are necessarily intuitive to your average product designer,” Ledger said.

“Given my own experiences with these devices, and conversations I’ve had with others, I have found that a surprising percentage of devices in the market first fail to achieve even short term engagement for many users because they suffer from one or more fatal user experience flaws,” he said.

These flaws are:

  • They are easy to lose
  • They break
  • They’re not waterproof
  • They’re a pain to sync with your smartphone
  • The battery doesn’t last long enough
  • They’re ugly
  • They’re uncomfortable to wear
  • They provide no material benefit

“Any one of these flaws is enough to turn off a user — more than one often lands these devices in a desk drawer, or even worse, the trash,” Ledger said.

Ensuring long-term engagement

If a device makes it through without any fatal flaws, then it next needs to give users a compelling reason to continue using them. There are three main factors for long-term engagement: Habit formation, social motivation and goal reinforcement, Ledger said.

According to the white paper, “Wearable devices can help make the process of habit formation more effective and efficient than ever before. The best engagement strategies for wearables will move beyond presenting data (steps, calories, stairs) and directly address the elements of the habit loop (cue, behavior, reward) and trigger the sequences that lead to the establishment of new, positive habits.”

If users are effectively motivated, then they will continue to wear a device. Social connections help with this, such as when users share their goals with a group. This makes them more committed to achieving their goals. It also helps to communicate goals on Facebook or other social networks. Two examples of wearables that establish motivation by effectively leveraging social connections are Polar Loop’s Flow Web service and the Nike Fuelband SE/Nike+ service, according to the white paper.

Goal reinforcement, the third factor, occurs when a user feels progress toward defined goals. Wearables are persistent in that they’re always on, always worn, and that helps a user remain connected to their goals and see their progress, according to the white paper.

Ledger said, “Some companies are already beginning to embrace the complex science of behavior change; however, there remains a great deal of potential for advancements in this area. A greater understanding of habit formation, social motivation and goal reinforcement will allow companies involved with wearables to create ever more effective and successful devices and services to promote health and wellness.”

To learn more about the criteria for long-term engagement and the future of wearables, download Endeavour’s white paper: “Inside Wearables: How the Science of Human Behavior Change Offers the Secret to Long-Term Engagement.”


About

Teena Hammond is a Senior Editor at TechRepublic. She has 20 years of journalism experience as an editor and writer covering a range of business and lifestyle topics. More than 2,000 of her published articles have appeared online and in books, newspa...

18 comments
SofiesChar
SofiesChar

Completely agree with eaglewolf's analogy with social media.  People who use these things are as addicted to them as the people who can't stay off their computers.  Both sets run a substantial risk of alienating their flesh-and-flood friends by virtue (!?!) of their obsession with artificial intelligence.  It's part of our society, though -- most of the herd can't do things for themselves.  They and their actions are "real" only if validated electronically.  A pretty sad commentary on our culture!

eaglewolf
eaglewolf

 Every time there is a new 'fad' that pops up on Facebook/Twitter or other social media, there is an overwhelming flurry of apps, devices, and psycho-babble taking advantage of it.  Why?  Oh.  Simple answer - money.  And through the marvel of Marketing, it's rapidly deemed totally *critical* for the masses to have/use it.  

And you can't just use it by yourself, you need total immersion in 'social motivation' .. it's mandatory that you have all your virtual 'friends' gather around you and support you.  It's 'trending' - 'everybody' is doing it and you can't be left out.   

No matter that the apps lack any form of security or even validity.  Where is the data going?  Who sees it?  More important:  who is selling it?   For health:  is it a HIPPA violation?   Who even cares?   You can absolutely NOT participate with that trend.  Gee, could you lose your 'status' on social networking and have your 'friends' leave you?

Speaking of health, there is something a bit 'sick' about the obsessive-compulsive notion that you MUST monitor every physiological element - 24/7.  Why?   It goes along with the OCD of Facebook/Twitter - you MUST check it every 15 minutes or less.   Good god, some celeb just posted they had a tuna sandwich and your entire world will fall apart if you don't know that - and don't forget to re-tweet.

"Wearables are persistent in that they’re always on, always worn, and that helps a user remain connected to their goals and see their progress, according to the white paper."  Eh?  When your pants keep slipping down and your belt is taken in as far as it will go, can you manage - all by yourself - to conclude that you're losing weight??

We are rapidly losing our self-reliance, our sense of self-worth and capability.  Everything has to be done en masse.  Every second of your life has to be filled with something - no down time to relax and let your mind be creative and innovative.  There are apps to fill any void in your time with 'recommendations' of what you can do, watch, read.

What can you do?   Turn off the damned devices - technology does NOT equate to intelligence.

Want to be healthy?  Find a good exercise buddy .. you remember, don't you?  A real flesh-and-blood *person!!*  Go for a walk or run in the local park .. bike ride .. hike.  You can talk with him/her, too.  Swap ideas .. solve the world's problems.  Keep friends to those who are truly real - it's much more rewarding.

Lots of other things, too, but they take a sense of 'self,' not a herd mentality.



Mike Van Horn
Mike Van Horn

I predict we'll be seeing similar articles before too long about the "Internet of things" residential controllers.

bobwinners
bobwinners

Funny!  v I haven't even worn a watch in 30 years....not likely I'll be strapping on one of these thingies!

Steven Schwartz
Steven Schwartz

Interesting article. Our experience at FitLinxx shows that when an activity tracker is fully integrated with an engaging health or wellness program, you get sustained engagement. As an example, 77% of people who participated in our partner’s SparkPeople program with a Spark Activity Tracker are still using it 4 months later.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

Who knew???  Did regular people, geeks, and the manufacturers not really see this happening?


It's so obvious that it's just about as entertaining as a digital wrist watch and it was unproven as to how people would benefit from it and/or accept it.  Let's face it, the thing that makes a product desirable is it's initial capabilities and it's subsequent uses that the public users stumble upon by using it.


This piece of "technology" was literally doomed before it hit the streets.  I'm sure the only reason they've sold a decent amount of them initially is all due to the hype the manufacturer paid for.


Even the "brick" cell phone gleaned more interest that this item!!!

waytoobusyforthisnonsense
waytoobusyforthisnonsense

Here's the REAL thing regarding why wearables lose their luster - although the look and difficulty may have SOMETHING to do with why folks stop using them after 6 months......the real reason is

The wearables they are talking about have to do with EXERCISE!!!! - how many Craigs List and ebay ads advertise exercise equipment in LIKE NEW condition????? Wearables are just another piece of exercise equipment. If you fall off the wagon, it's going in the drawer......and it is WAY easier to put away than a high-priced "valet" of an elliptical machine....

Your thoughts???? They are better for those who are dedicated to maintaining their health vs. fair-weather or New Years' Resolution buffs who don't reach their goals and lose interest in the activity.....not just the wearable.

ckeller
ckeller

FitBit Flex is compelling because it's comfortable, water resistant and the monitoring it does is of interest to me with the added bonus that it wakes me up in the morning. I haven't lost interest and it's been almost a year now.

DAS01
DAS01

"Tech wearables, particularly those for health and fitness, fail to keep the interest of users for more than a few months."

No surprise about that or anything else in the article.


"...needs to give users a compelling reason to continue using them".

A lot of "water is wet"-type statements like this one in the article.


As pmartin5 says, he is only one user.  Where are the millions like him?  And maybe the Fitbit Flex does tick the right boxes (compelling reason etc)?

pmartin5
pmartin5

Re. The Flaws:  

I know I'm only one person, but... I've been using one (Fitbit Flex)  since the beginning of July 2013. I've not lost it (unusual for me); it's not broken; I swim and shower in it; it syncs very easily with my phone and unnoticeably with my computer; the battery lasts 5 or 6 days and I get an email when it's low; it's no more ugly than a wristwatch or other type of braceletty thing (could be better I suppose); I wear it 24/7 with no discomfort; it has motivated me to keep more active than I was. 

Having said all that, Fitbit has a strong community aspect which is also a  great motivator. I think that the Fitbit people must have considered many of these issues because they seem to be covered! I can't speak for other manufacturers.
reecedano
reecedano

Fashion is important, but I think properly motivating a user to alter engrained behaviors is most important. A lot of companies are working on fashion and engaging software, but they are largely ignoring the principles of motivation and behavior change. Oven Inc has a whitepaper about affecting healthy behaviors using these principles that may be of interest, too. http://www.oveninc.com/#writing

Tony Bunce
Tony Bunce

Probably because they are useless!

alekssav
alekssav

@eaglewolf why aren't you encouraging this behaviour as an "outsider"? Because it's claiming your "friends" If you can master technology and your life, then own it and perhaps one day you will be identified accordingly.


An eaglewolf sounds like a lonely combination though.

alekssav
alekssav

@waytoobusyforthisnonsense Too right. "exercising" isn't a goal "being healthy" isn't a goal. This is where these devices fall apart, or maybe not? Unless the user experience behind these devices is ad supported or generating some kind of revenue for the company behind that particular product what value is there in the customer being engaged for too long? Make gadget, sell gadget, make new model next year, hope people ditched their last one, and buy this one. Repeat.


Completely conjecture: 2.0 will include enough features to get these people back on the bandwagon i.e. buy again, while 0.5 is still in use by (and later models aren't really) in much demand for people that bought in early and have the functionality they need to support their pre-existing lifestyle choice.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

@waytoobusyforthisnonsense    Exactly.  How many "i'm going to exercise more this year" New Year's resolutions have been broken, long before there was a little thing on your wrist that measures and reports on something you don't want measured or reported.

alekssav
alekssav

@ckeller So FitBit haven't made any money off you for a year? What would it take for them to make more money from you? A "better device", a "better supporting service"? This is a very interesting area of the market.

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