Step Away From The Wristband

by Jack Sommer

Why is it that wristbands are still the defacto form for health and fitness monitoring? Let's step away from wristbands and explore alternate product forms that provide better monitoring, style, and user experience.

Over the recent years, wearables have exploded — particularly wristbands. Devices like Fitbit and Jawbone came up from smaller companies, and then giants like Apple and Microsoft even got involved (with the Apple Watch and Microsoft Band, respectively). And with technology overall evolving so rapidly and performing more high-level tasks than ever before, it's easy to always just trust that a device or software is doing its job. But what if they're not always completely on the mark?

While these devices have been shown to give solid general analyzations of your health data, they are not necessarily ideal at specifics yet. In an article from last summer by the MIT Technology Review, the author Rachel Metz did a test. She wore an Apple Watch and Microsoft Band while she rode her bike to work and back. Metz, who is also their senior editor in Silicon Valley, even wore another Bluetooth chest strap (a Polar H7). The data she got back from all three was not so similar. The highest difference noted was between the Apple Watch and the chest trap, which were up to 77 BPM off from each other at certain points. The calories burned also had a varying range by as much as 40 calories in total difference.

Wristbands need to improve and become more accurate, especially when they're looking at such important parts of our life as sleep and heart rate. Eventually, the hope is that these devices will be able to accurately and closely keep a constant eye on even serious health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Frightening episodes like seizures could also be measured and be used to alert another person of what's going on. Doctors could even be impacted by how in-depth they can stay alert to problems with their patients by keeping an eye on their condition in a way that is only currently able to be done while someone is actively in a hospital. The devices, upon analyzation, could also improve the levels of feedback and suggestions they are also able to give through the software.

They may be good enough for getting the general consensus of your activity levels, but the level at which they're able to go in-depth is not totally clear.

"While the wrist seems like a great place to start with sensing on the body, and we’re used to adorning it with watches and jewelry, it’s tricky to make a comfortable, good-­looking device that can stand up to all kinds of daily abuse," says the author, Rachel Metz. Our wrists also vary in size, amount of hair, sweat output, and even tattoos. 

What's the solution? We need to steer away from what we're wearing on our wrists and start integrating this technology more into what's around us. One level would be incorporation into larger garments that would allow for sensors to collect from a larger area of data. Even on another level, incorporating the technology into elements around us like our chairs would be an even more natural user experience process. The time has come to look beyond the wrist. 

Originally written about on the MIT Technology Review.