Bored with Your Fitness Tracker? Better Devices Are on the Way

A pile of fitness trackers
Fitness trackers (Image credit: Bahar Gholipour for Live Science)

If you own a fitness tracker that sits in your desk drawer instead of on your wrist, you're not alone.

About one-third (34 percent) of people who buy a smart wearable device, such as a fitness tracker or smartwatch, abandon the device after just six to 12 months, according to a recent poll conducted in June by the consulting firm Endeavour Partners.

That's a slight decrease from last year, when 44 percent of wearable-device owners said they stopped using their devices within six to 12 months. [The 11 Weirdest Gadgets of 2014]

Still, "abandonment rates continue to be high despite increased adoption, and the industry continues to struggle to deliver products and services that provide sustained benefit to the mass market," a July report from Endeavour Partners said.

Part of problem is that this first generation of wearables is a little primitive, said Dan Ledger, principal at Endeavour Partners, who wrote the report. For example, fitness trackers track only simple measurements, like steps taken and calories burned, and smartwatches are often bulky and perform the same functions as a mobile phone, Ledger said.

"Wearables resonate with a very small percentage of the population," Ledger said. "They're not indispensable."

But that's changing. Several important developments are underway that aim to boost the usefulness, and uniqueness, of smart wearables, Ledger said.

"We're really entering the new era of wearable technology," Ledger told Live Science. "The breadth of these devices, and the breadth of the problems that they solve, is going to go up."

For example, the industry is starting to develop new and better sensors that will be able to track a greater number of parameters, such as a user's blood pressure and stress level, both accurately and consistently, the report said. The startup Quanttus is said to be working on a wristband that can measure blood pressure, and Samsung is working on new sensors for its Simband reference fitness tracker to measure heart rate and blood flow.

"As this technology improves and these smart wearables can more robustly and persistently measure more bio parameters, we will see an explosion of health-and-wellness-related devices, apps and services that provide a far greater breadth of utility than what we see today," the report said.

"Once you begin collecting data from people 24/7, you can do a lot of powerful things [with] that data," such as manage chronic diseases and understand stress, Ledger said.

Large manufacturers — such as Samsung, Apple and Google — are also entering the wearables market. (Apple's smartwatch, reportedly called the iWatch, is rumored to be released later this year). These companies have extensive resources and manufacturing capabilities that will likely accelerate the speed of innovation, Ledger said.

As smart wearables and their sensors get better, the number of apps and other services designed to utilize this data to provide insight and analysis will also expand, Ledger said.

"It's going to be similar to what Apple did with the smartphone," Ledger said, referring to the platform that Apple created on the iPhone that allows third-party apps to be downloaded.

If that's the case, smartwatches and fitness trackers that have apps may have an advantage, in terms of their longevity with users, over those that do not, Ledger said. For example, the Pebble smartwatch has apps, and "Every day, you can go to the app store and discover a new utility for this device, and keep the experience fresh," Ledger said.

Finally, better-looking devices that are more fashionable than traditional tech gadgets will make smart wearables appealing to a larger number of people, Ledger said. For instance, Withings recently released Activité, a device that looks like a stylish wristwatch with a clock face, but has the ability to track walking, running, swimming and sleep.

Fitbit also recently announced a new collection of accessories, such as brass bracelets and pendants (from luxury fashion brand Tory Burch) that can hold a Fitbit Flex.

However, Ledger said that people who were not satisfied with the first generation of wearables may be reluctant to buy another one, even if the next generation is far better.

"We're seeing a non-insignificant chunk [of the public] that has owned a Fitbit and hasn't been that impressed," Ledger said. "What's it going to take to get them back to this category?"

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.