Wearable Fitness Devices Don’t Seem to Make You More Fit – The New York Times

I once received a lot of blowback for an Upshot article in which I showed (with evidence) that exercise is not the key to weight loss. Diet is. Many, many readers cannot wrap their head around the notion that adding physical activity, and therefore burning more calories, doesn’t necessarily translate into results on the scale.

Well, here we go again because some of those folks also believe that fitness devices — Fitbit, Vivosmart, Apple Watch — must be helpful in losing weight. Unfortunately, evidence doesn’t support this belief either.

Yep.

Source: Wearable Fitness Devices Don’t Seem to Make You More Fit – The New York Times

Why Aren’t Smartwatches Smaller?

You may know by now that I’ve decided that my Apple Watch is no longer a device I want to use. I won’t go into the details here, because I spell it out in the article I link to above.

But Apple’s is not the only smartwatch out there; there are lots of them. And most of them are very big. Apple’s watch comes in two sizes: 38mm and 42mm. Other smartwatches are even bigger; some Android watches are as big as 46mm.

This seems to be a trend in the watch industry. Since I have been looking at watches, I’ve noticed how many of them are honking big. 40mm seems to be the standard size for many watches, with some much larger. And the ones with all those buttons make you look like you’re wearing a carburetor on your wrist.

There are still plenty of watches that are smaller: you can get 35-36mm watches fairly easily, and some come even smaller than that. But, for the most part, watches are big, so someone can read the time from across the room. (And, presumably, mostly men buy this type of watch.)

Smartwatches need to show a lot of data, so they tend to be larger. But not everyone wants all that data. My Macworld colleague Caitlin McGarry just reviewed the Withings Activité Steel HR (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which merely has a time dial, a “goal” dial, and a small OLED display for showing limited amounts of data. It’s available in two sizes: 36mm (really 36.3mm) and 40mm (really 39.5mm).

You may think that’s fine; but look at the 36mm model on Caitlin’s wrist:

Withings steel hr 2 100704741 large

I’ve never met Caitlin, but she has told me that she has tiny wrists. That watch, on her wrist, looks like a 46mm watch would on mine. (I’ve chosen a 38mm Junghans Max Bill, which is about as big as I want a watch to be.)

It’s worth noting that the battery can make a watch bigger, but the smaller the display – that’s the part that uses the most power – the smaller the battery has to be. And smartwatches get their power more from the thickness of the battery; this Withings watch is 13mm thick, and the Apple Watch are 10.5 – 11.4mm.

So why aren’t the smartwatch makers catering to people with smaller wrists, especially for women and, perhaps, teenagers? Particularly this type of smartwatch that doesn’t try to display a lot of data? Is it because only men buy these devices? It seems like there is a potential segment of the market that’s not being addressed. If the smallest smartwatch you can get is honking big, you may simply not want to wear one.

Apple Watch & Fitness: watchOS 2 Fixes Some Issues, but Heart Rate Still Inconsistent

I’ve written a lot about the Apple Watch, especially about the problems using the device as a fitness tracker. Its resting calories calculation was grossly exaggerated, the heart rate sensor recorded ludicrous numbers, and the device was stingy in recording exercise minutes.

watchOS 2 will be released next week, but I’ve already install the GM (gold master) on my Apple Watch. I’ve found that, while the new software fixes some of these issues, there are still some glitches.

ExerciseFirst, exercise minutes. Previously, my Apple Watch hardly recorded any minutes, no matter what I did. My only exercise is walking, and I walk fairly briskly, generally around 12 min/km. That should be enough to count as exercise; my Fitbit One counts that time as “active minutes.”

With watchOS 2, my Apple Watch records my exercise much better. If I set a workout, either an indoor walk on my treadmill, or an outdoor walk, almost all of the time is counted. If not, some of my walking is counted, but not all.

CaloriesAs for resting calories, they no longer exist. Instead of showing Active Calories, Resting Calories, and Total Calories, the Activity app only displays Active Calories and Total Calories. (And, to confuse things, the Health app calls these Active Energy and Resting Energy.)

It’s true that showing the Resting Calories isn’t very useful; you can do the math if you want. The Total Calories I’ve seen so far seem to show that the resting calorie calculation is much more accurate. (Note that, in the example to the left, I only installed the software around 10 am yesterday, so it doesn’t display a full day’s calories; it didn’t pick up my resting calories before that time.)

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Review: Spire Breathing Tracker

The wearables market is essentially made up of fitness trackers: devices that count your steps, assay your activity, or let you know when you’re not moving enough. All of these devices track movement, but they don’t track one part of your activity that can greatly affect your health: your breathing. Your breath affects your vagus nerve, which, in turn, affects your state of mind.

Spire is a small device that you clip on your belt or bra, and it detects your inhalations and exhalations. This data gets sent to your iOS device, which provides insights into how you breathe.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

Round Smartwatches: You’re Doing It Wrong | WatchAware

But the benefit to a circular display is that the entire display can rotate without any data loss — just like the inside of a compass. This means that, once calibrated with your head-level as “north” (you are a star, after all!), the UI will always know where your smartwatch is in relation to your eyeballs.

Yes! That’s one of the first things I noticed when I got my Apple Watch. I can never really have the watch’s text at an angle where I can read it comfortably without stretching. If I hold my arm up to look at the Apple Watch, the display is skewed about 15 degrees from my north. What a great idea that would be, if the watch face rotated as you moved your arm, or if it were simply set it – using a manual setting – to be at the most comfortable viewing angle.

Source: Round Smartwatches: You’re Doing It Wrong WatchAware

Fitness Tracker Review: Withings Pulse Ox

Withings pulseI’ve found, after trying a number of fitness trackers (including the Apple Watch), that the Fitbit One (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is both the most accurate, and the easiest to use. (I reviewed it here.) To repeat what I’ve said before:

“Fitness trackers are motivators. While, on the surface, they claim to record data about your activity, the real reason people buy them is to motivate themselves to be more active. None of them are perfectly accurate, and they all have drawbacks. Some have good hardware and mediocre software; some have excellent software and poor hardware. But, if you want this kind of device, there is certainly one that will fit your needs.”

My summary of the Fitbit One was:

“Overall, the Fitbit One is a good device, as its step count is extremely accurate. Fitbit’s software — both on iOS and its web-based dashboard — is useful, though relatively simple. It doesn’t offer reminders and nudges as the Jawbone UP does; it essentially offers just raw data. While I want more — the inactivity alert the Jawbone can provide would be useful to remind me to get up and move during the day — it’s good enough for now.”

I recently got the Withings Pulse Ox (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which is a direct competitor to the Fitbit One. Since Fitbit won’t sync data to Apple’s HealthKit, I wanted to try a simple, belt-worn tracker that does.

The Pulse Ox is a bit wider and shorter than the Fitbit One. It comes with a wristband (seriously? who would wear that?), and a belt clip. You can also put it in your pocket.

Fitbit pulse

I was disappointed by the Pulse Ox, for several reasons. First, it’s inaccurate; it registers from about 10-30% fewer steps than the Fitbit One. It’s reliable at fixed paces, such as when I walk on my treadmill, but not the rest of the day. Since you can watch a live step count with the Fitbit iOS app, I’ve tested the Fitbit One in a variety of settings, and always found that it counted all my steps, and no more. Accuracy is, to me, one of the most important elements of any fitness tracker, and if the Pulse Ox can’t get that right, there’s not much hope.

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Cnet’s Smartwatch Step Count Accuracy Test Uses Flawed Methodology

When choosing a fitness tracker, or smartwatch, most people go for style of features other than the actual fitness tracking. Very few reviews seem to think that accuracy is important; I’ve found that many fitness trackers are inaccurate, and I was very pleased to see that Cnet did a test of fitness trackers and smartwatches, comparing them to the Apple Watch.

Unfortunately, the methodology used is flawed. The article says:

“With those caveats in mind, I developed a testing methodology to try and reduce variables as much as possible. I wore each activity tracker or smartwatch on my left wrist at a single time and walked on a treadmill for a mile (as measured by the treadmill’s built-in distance tracker). I then compared the mileage from the treadmill to the mileage recorded on the watch. This test was performed three times with each device I tested to ensure accuracy. The same treadmill was used for the test, and I walked at the same speed (3.5 mph, which came to about 17 minutes each time).”

Most fitness trackers do quite well on treadmills; it’s easy to count steps in a situation like that. It’s much harder to count steps in real-world situations.

When I reviewed the Fitbit Charge, I found that it was very accurate on a treadmill. Compared to the Fitbit One – probably the most accurate fitness tracker, because of the fact that you wear it on your belt – I found the two to be very close:

“Both devices recorded nearly the same number of steps on the treadmill (2,048 steps for the Charge, and 1,997 for the One)…”

But let’s look at the entire paragraph that quote is taken from:

“Here are some examples. One day, I tested the devices by wearing both of them. I went about my usual business, and I walked on my treadmill for 30 minutes. Both devices recorded nearly the same number of steps on the treadmill (2,048 steps for the Charge, and 1,997 for the One), but for the rest of the day, the numbers diverged greatly. Near the end of the day, when the Fitbit Charge was at 5,000 steps, the One was almost exactly at 4,000 steps. These convenient numbers make it very easy to calculate the discrepancy between the two devices. If you take away the 2,000 steps on the treadmill, where the devices nearly matched, the Charge recorded 3,000 steps, and the one 2,000. In other words, the Charge is recording 50% more steps than the One. (I’ve noticed that the Charge records some steps when I’m asleep; a half-dozen here, a dozen there, adding up, some nights, to 50 steps or so. And, no, I don’t sleepwalk.)”

So, comparing the two by only looking at a treadmill test, they look like they’re very close. But comparing the two throughout a full day’s activity, the Fitbit Charge recorded 50% more steps than the Fitbit One.

So it’s good that Cnet decided to test the accuracy of fitness trackers and smartwatches; it’s a shame that they didn’t come up with a valid test.

How Accurate is the Apple Watch as a Fitness Tracker?

One of the key features of the Apple Watch is its ability to serve as a fitness tracker, replacing devices made by Fitbit, Nike, Jawbone, and others. Fitness trackers are often quite inaccurate; I’ve tested several, and only the Fitbit One counts steps accurately. Some fitness trackers also have heart rate sensors, as the Apple Watch does, but I’ve never tested any of those.

But how about the Apple Watch? Is it accurate?

I’ve had my Apple Watch for three days, and I’ve been recording my activity, and comparing it to the Fitbit One. I’ve found that, in some ways, the Apple Watch is very accurate; in others, it’s all over the place.

The Apple Watch records different types of metrics, not just steps. While it does keep a step count, it focuses on three metrics to determine your activity. You can see them in the three rings that display on the Apple Watch, and in the Activity app on an iPhone:

Activity rings

The outer ring shows the number of active calories you have expended, and the ring is based on a goal you set (I set mine to 500 calories, and increased it after the Watch prompted me to on Sunday evening). The second ring is active minutes; it is measured against a goal of 30 minutes a day. The third ring is standing time: it measures whether you have stood for at least one minute in each of twelve hours of the day. As you can see, all my rings were will beyond their goals yesterday. When you reach a goal, the end of the ring is at 12 o’clock; as you exceed your goals, the ring keeps turning.

The Activity app also shows you more detail: the number of calories, number of active minutes, workouts (if you’ve used the Workout app on the Apple Watch), and the number of steps you’ve taken, and their distance. It’s this final metric that allows one to compare the Apple Watch with other devices.

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Why Fitbit Is Wrong to Ignore Apple’s HealthKit

Fitbit, the leader in fitness trackers, decided some time ago that they would not allow data to be exchanged between their app and Apple’s HealthKit. Apple’s HealthKit is the framework behind the iOS Health app, which allows apps to communicate, sharing data, and allowing the Health app to collate and present that data. The Health app serves as a traffic controller: in it, you can tell which apps are allowed to serve as sources – whose data will be collected – and which apps can read from the HealthKit data.

Fitbit said, some months ago, in a statement posted on their forums:

“We do not currently have plans to integrate with HealthKit.”

As time has passed, it is clear that this was just waffling. Since Fitbit is preparing to file for an IPO, they are clearly hoping to be a competitor to the Apple Watch, and to the Apple ecosystem in general. (Or they’re simply trying to cash in before Apple crushes the company.)

The problem is that Fitbit is making a big mistake. Fitbit misunderstands that the data in their app does not belong to them, it belongs to users. And they are holding that data hostage, while many other companies provide ways to access, download, and transfer their data to other apps and platforms.

Platform lock-in is a big deal for computers and mobile phones, but it is also a big deal for fitness trackers and related devices. Fitbit also sells a scale, and will probably release other devices, all of which collate data in the Fitbit app. In comparison, Withings make fitness trackers, scales, a blood pressure monitor, and more, and they sync their data with HealthKit.

I have both a Fitbit One and a Fitbit Aria Scale, and find the Fitbit app to be excellent, but I want to be able to easily export that data to the Health app. If the company continues to prevent this, it’s unlikely that I’d renew either of these devices, or buy new devices from the company. While I’m not indicative of the average user, the 99 pages, as of this writing, in response to Fitbit’s forum post make it clear that they have plenty of users who want interoperability.

We are living in a world of interoperability. When you refuse to allow users to take their data and put it where they want, you will alienate those users who are the most interested in using your product.

Fitbit Set to File for an IPO

Fitbit, manufacturer of fitness trackers and scales, is planning to go public, with an IPO valuing the company at $100 million. As the leader in this segment, Fitbit sold nearly 11 million devices last year, with revenue of $745 million.

They are certainly the market leader, with more than 2/3 of the fitness tracker market. But Fitbit’s timing is odd. Could it be because the Apple Watch is on the market? While not that many Apple Watches are shipping, Fitbit might have their IPO before there are enough to be a threat.

As Wall Street Journal technology columnist Christopher Mims said on Twitter, “42% of people stop wearing fitness trackers after 6 months. Any growth left for FitBit is just people who haven’t tried, discarded it yet.” So this isn’t a market where you develop long-term relationships with a lot of your customers.

But for those interested in tracking their fitness, Fitbit devices are much cheaper than the Apple Watch, competitive with other brands, and they offer a full range of trackers, from the One, which goes on your belt clip, to the Surge, which is similar to a watch. But some of Fitbit’s products are very inaccurate, prompting people to return them, or dump them.

Personally, I’ve used a Fitbit One for about two and a half years. It’s the most accurate device the company makes, and is unobtrusive. Dedicated runners and fitness buffs may want more, such as the Fitbit Surge HR, which measures their heart rate along with their activity, but the Apple Watch, while priced a bit higher, offers so much more functionality that it’s hard to imagine this cohort not buying the Apple product, once it becomes more widely available.

While Fitbit may be able to retain some of their market share, I think investing in this stock would be quite risky. Wearables are not a given, and with Apple in the market, it will be hard for any company to create products that compete.