Fitbit’s share price fell through the floor when revealed its new smartwatch at CES. The Fitbit Blaze is its first colour watch, and is intended to broaden its horizons beyond fitness, to compete directly with the big players in the market. But despite the buzz around wearables, and regardless of Fitbit’s track record, investors saw a problem.
The Fitbit Blaze is positioned to compete with premium smart watches, like the ones you’d buy from Sony, Motorola or Apple. It has a colour screen, fitness apps, and can control music from your phone. But it doesn’t run a full ecosystem like Android or iOS, and that’s where the problem lies. Investors want platforms that can support a range of apps, because they want to see a constant flow of data. With Fitbit, the data is mostly locked away.
The key purpose of any wearable device is to relay information about our movements, in a very literal sense. What’s more, wrist-worn devices are particularly good at generating a constant stream of data, because they’re carried for most of the day. We’re already in the age of Big Data, and hardware manufacturers need to think beyond hardware to figure out how they can make sense of all this information.
On the other side of the equation, consumers are wary of anything that could be seen to report their movements and preferences. If your employer gives you a fitness band, could they access your fitness data? Do they have a right to do so? If you go for a long walk after calling in sick, what would the consequences be?
The same questions are being raised about health insurance, seeing as Fitbit data has been used in court. Sometimes, this data is used in support of a claimant. Other times, its use as evidence has backfired. In both of these cases, people wilfully handed over their usernames and passwords to police. If they hadn’t, could the data have been accessed without their knowledge?
In the wearables market, privacy concerns are cited as a huge barrier to adoption. People don’t like being watched; the swift uptake of ad-blocking software has proven this already.
Another big issue is the lack of understanding about wearables: consumers don’t really know what kind of data is being harvested. Despite the obvious benefits of wearable tech, there is hesitance due to a lack of regulation in the industry, and a track record of privacy faux pas by some of the world’s biggest brands.
Gartner estimates that 91.5 million smart watches were shipped in 2015, with that number climbing further this year. These devices, and others like them, can be used to locate missing items, track the whereabouts of our kids and improve our fitness and sleep. But to get wearables fully into the mainstream, businesses need to be clearer about who owns the data they generate.
Connected cars, shops and household appliances hold great potential for us all; all we need now is trust.