The hype really started when the Pebble watch started what became a record breaking Kickstarter campaign. Every media outlet was pleased to have a new technology to hype and many investors grateful for a new market. While the Pebble watch should remain one of the most cited examples of "wearables", another category really excelled in consumer interest: Fitness trackers like Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband or fitbit. When fitbit had to recall its Force wristband device earlier this year due to risk of skin irritation some unit numbers emerged that were rather impressive.

Yet all these "wearables" are rather redundant in terms of the functionality and value they provide. When I was a kid the local DIY store sold "step counters" which costed less than 5€ (10 Deutsche Mark at the time, approx. 6 US$), where equipped with a very simple display similar to the ones used in digital watches in the 1980s and a mechanical step counter you could even hear doing its tick-counting-tock-job. They did one thing: Showing you the number of steps you done on a day. For 6 US$! In the 1980s!

They did not greet you with your name, had no ability to convert the steps in to calories and there was certainly no concept of synchronising any data, let alone wirelessly. Yet the core functionality has not changed in 30 years.

Modern fitness tracker trick you with fancy industrial design, impressive displays and all sorts of mathematical bluffs. Approximate calculations of the calories you burnt, an "*"analysis" of your sleeping pattern and motivational messages to get you to your daily goal.

All of this is just based on whether there is movement detected. The rest is some common knowledge, popular science and formulas paired with a Bluetooth chip selling for around a 100 US$. The price point, by the way, is well chosen by the manufactures: Between 100-150 US$ seems to be the amount people are okay to spend on their health (!) and to be trendy. It must be more of the trendy aspect — showing you care about your health because of a rubber band with a display around your wrist — since the step counter from your Dad and an Excel file would already provide the same health value of today's fitness trackers.

While I tried a fitbit One myself, I firmly believe that fitness tracker provide a false sense of security when it comes to health. They certainly help people that sit too much and do not move on a regular basis to get going. But if you want to really work on your fitness you need to seriously move and sweat. Most, if not all, of today's fitness trackers have no ability to distinguish between a stroll and a run. If you want to live healthy walking 10,000 steps a day is a good start, but by far not enough.

The biggest bluff to me is the sleep measurement that fitness trackers offer. Again, all they decect are movements. They will tell you how long you slept (once you told them by a press of a button that you are going to bed!) and how much you moved while you slept. You could have pretty much the same information (without the fancy dashboard graphs though) by using the timer on your regular watch or by just looking at the clock when you go to bed and when you wake up. Just measuring movements is not telling you a lot about the quality of sleep you get and if you are not getting enough sleep you may already know that because you go to bed at 1am and get up 6am.

A month or so before the alleged announcement of Apple's wearable the fitness tracker market is full of well designed devices that add little to no value compared to a step tracker from the DIY store, a simple watch and an Excel sheet. One reason why Apple did not rush into this market as they knew they would not be able to provide their customers with a compelling device that adds a lot of value.

While people welcome a "wrist extension" to their smartphone like Pepple or the Samsung Gear — if the battery capacity is appropriate — the holy grail of value-adding wearables are defiinitely sensors. I can only hope that Apple, after a number of high-calibre hires in the medical sensoring and measuring sector, is in a position to take the wearable market to the next level by capturing everything you can capture from the wrist of a person.

I am going to look curious at what Apple will reveal — maybe early September, maybe later. Until then the "wearable" I will continue to use is a 400 US$ Garmin fenix 2 Multisport GPS watch. It does not measure steps or my sleeping habits, but it measures

  • How far, fast and high I run, cycle or hike
  • How far, fast and efficient I swim (indoor pool as well as open water)
  • My heart rate during any exercise (with HR chest monitor)
  • All supported by high-sensitivity GPS positioning, 3-axis compass with altimeter and barometer

fenix-2Even though this watch has a high price tag the cost-value-equation comparing to a trendy fitness tracker is clearly in favour of devices like the fenix 2. Of course the fenix 2 or similar sport/GPS watches from Garmin or other manufactures synchronise with your smartphone and online platforms via Bluetooth and some also provide some basic smartphone wrist extension functionalities. But that is not really the point. These watches create true value by using more advanced sensors (GPS, heart rate, cadence) that really inform you about your fitness and health status.

My German-speaking readers might also be interested in listening to episode #UC001 of Der Übercast where Andreas Zeitler, Patrick Welker and I discuss wearables in depth.