State of Wearables: Wrist Devices After Nike FuelBand SE and Fitbit Force

Wrist Wearables

Image from Travis Rathbone, Bloomberg Businessweek

Competition between producers of wrist-wearable devices is high and rising. The announcement of the Nike FuelBand SE, Fitbit Force, and BASIS Science’s series B funding show how this market is developing. At the same time, companies and consumers await Apple’s rumored iWatch. So who has the best position and who is poised to capture value from the predicted billion dollar market.

Nike FuelBand has improved greatly with its new SE model, which will be available on November. Perhaps the most motivating fitness tracker on the market, the FuelBand screen lets users see their progress any time and also doubles as a watch. Now, with the new model, it reminds users to stay active. FuelBand SE also addresses users’ major complaint with the first generation device — it’s accuracy. The previous generation device was very easy to trick and didn’t identify activities well. FuelBand SE addresses these concerns and added support for sleep tracking, Bluetooth 4.0, and greater water resistance. However, while data is available through an online portal, the device’s companion app only supports iOS. FuelBand SE’s focus on keeping users active paired with its improved accuracy and companion services’ analytics give Nike a strong complete package for activity tracking.

The new Fitbit Force wristband edges ahead of the competition with a well designed form factor and addition of simple smartwatch-like features. An interesting feature in this new device is support for a watch and call notifications, which links to iOS and gives the device an edge over Nike FuelBand and Jawbone UP. Some are calling the Fitbit Force a “semi-smartwatch”, with the focused capabilities of a high-quality fitness tracker with just enough “smart” to keep you connected – see the CNET review on the Force for more. All Fitbit gadgets send data to the Fitbit app, which supports iOS, Android, and 3rd party apps. Fitbit has a winning device in Force and a bright future if developer build apps for its device.

The Jawbone UP also has a strong position within the market for wristband fitness trackers. Its advanced data collection and analytics as well as the device’s discreet and durable design gives Jawbone UP its appeal. Like the Fitbit app, the UP app is also integrable with 3rd party apps for more capabilities. Unfortunately, Jawbone UP itself can’t display your daily progress and it requires that users plug it their phones in order to sync data, which can be inconvenient. As data becomes easier and more convenient to access through automatic syncing offered by competitors, this downfall makes UP unappealing.

Basis Science also produces a notable wrist-wearable device, Basis, which tracks fitness, heart rate, and sleep. The device costs $199 and incorporates several advanced features. While the company is gaining support and funding, its mass-production capacities and market potential are not as demonstrated as Nike, Fitbit, and Jawbone. Read our previous coverage of this device for more details.

What about smart watches? For now, an absolute displacement of fitness tracking products by smartwatches seems unlikely. According to a study by consumer analytics firm On Device Research, those who did splurge on smartwatches were mainly gadget-loving men, a small niche in the entire consumer market. Samsung Gear has suffered criticism, and Sony is already on its third attempt at a smartwatch without huge disruption. Pebble stands out as the most flexible and customizable gadget for the cause, but hasn’t created strong enough incentive for enough people to feel the necessity to buy one. A Forbes review on the watch mentioned that “Pebble needs to be more ‘general purpose’ like a phone, tablet, PC or more ‘focused’ like a sports watch or game console.” Currently, Pebble sits in the middle of fitness tracking and smartwatches and struggles to stand out in either sector. While smartwatchs enjoy substantial hype and consumer awareness, a study featured on CNET shows the watches have low sustained interest. In fact, 45% of smartwatch owners stopped using the product because they forgot to wear it or became bored, indicating the benefits of having a one are not strong or clear enough. This user engagement challenge is shared by fitness trackers.

The following table shows a comparison of selected wrist-wearable fitness trackers and smart watches:

DeviceFitbit ForceJawbone UPNike FuelBand SEPebble
InterfaceMobile app, iOS and AndroidMobile App, iOS and Android, accessible APIScreen, Mobile App, iOS and PC (website)Screen, Mobile integration, iOS and Android. Customizable with Pebble SDK
OtherAdvanced fitness tracking, time display, progress displayAdvanced tracking in all areas; supplemented by 3rd party appsMore accurate than its predecessorCapabilities depend on downloaded apps

Wristband fitness tracking devices have a straightforward and clear beneficial impact on a consumer’s life and currently have a price and utility advantage over smartwatches. With the release of new products and funding announcements, we’re excited to see which device succeeds with consumers next and new devices on the horizon as new players enter the wrist wearable space… cue Apple.

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