Where are the fitness bands?

Where are the fitness bands?

Where Have All the Fitness Bands Gone?

It all started with a simple question on the ENBLEcast hotline: What are some screenless wearables that offer health tracking like the Fitbit Flex but are more affordable than the expensive Oura Ring? Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single good answer. It seems that the fitness bands of just a few years ago are no longer in vogue. The Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up, and Misfit Ray, which were once popular choices, have disappeared from the market. The closest alternatives nowadays are devices like the Amazfit Band 7, Fitbit Inspire 3, Garmin Vivosmart 5, and Xiaomi Mi Band 7, but they all come with screens.

As someone who has been wearing fitness trackers since 2014, this lack of innovation and options left me unsettled. Back then, I was a diehard Fitbit Charge fan and had plenty of alternatives to choose from. But now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find interesting fitness bands to review. This begs the question: Where have all the fitness bands gone?

Smartwatches Offer More Bang for Your Buck

The disappearance of fitness bands might seem odd considering their advantages over smartwatches. Fitness bands have longer battery life, lasting weeks on a single charge, compared to the daily or every-other-day charging required by most smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, and Google. They are discreet, allowing you to wear them alongside your mechanical watch, and are designed for 24/7 wear. In contrast, smartwatches like the Apple Watch Ultra can be bulky and lead to notification fatigue. Additionally, smartwatches tend to be more expensive than fitness bands.

However, the fact remains that smartwatches can do more overall. While fitness bands can track health and fitness, they still require you to look at your phone for everything else. Smartwatches, on the other hand, offer a more comprehensive solution, reducing the need to constantly check your phone while staying connected. Julie Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, explains, “Smartwatches have far more utility than a Jawbone or simple Fitbit would’ve had ten years ago. You still can’t buy one for less than $100, but you can buy them for less than $300.”

The line between fitness bands and smartwatches has blurred significantly, with smartwatches offering more value for consumers. Fitbit’s product lineup in 2021 is a perfect example. The Fitbit Charge 5, priced at $180, saw a $30 increase from its predecessor. The Luxe, a high-end fitness band, launched at $150 for the regular version and a staggering $200 for the special edition. In comparison, the midrange Versa 3 smartwatch cost $230 but offered more features and functionality. Despite not utilizing all of the Versa’s extra capabilities, it still felt like the better investment due to its versatility.

Outside of Fitbit, other major players in the market like Apple, Samsung, and Amazfit also offer smartwatches with similar or more advanced features than the Fitbit Charge 5. As a result, smartwatches have become the more popular choice among consumers. According to a 2023 consumer benchmark survey by Forrester, 32 percent of online-savvy adults use smartwatches, while only 19 percent use fitness trackers. The International Data Corporation (IDC) expects fitness bands to maintain a niche market share of 6.4 percent, declining to 4.8 percent by 2027, while smartwatches are projected to grow from 31.2 percent to 32.8 percent in the same period.

Fitness Bands Ain’t Profitable

For larger brands, investing in fitness bands is not a wise financial decision. Smaller and more experimental wearable companies like Oura and Whoop also find it financially unviable to create affordable fitness band alternatives. These companies rely on high-tech, science-based products, and one-time hardware sales are simply not enough to sustain their operations, fund research, or obtain necessary FDA clearances. Consequently, many smartwatch alternatives come with pricey monthly subscriptions.

According to Julie Ask, if a small company wants funding, they need a services model and must demonstrate a positive impact on consumers, which means charging for the service. Wearable makers and health tech companies often pursue subscriptions for this reason, except for Garmin. This approach is not unique to wearables but extends to the smart home and other connected gadgets.

Will Fitness Bands Make a Comeback?

Recent product launches suggest that fitness bands are unlikely to regain their dominance. However, there is still demand for screenless wearables, albeit with different purposes. The screenless wearables available in the market today either focus on specialized wellness tracking or come with a hefty price tag, sometimes both. For example, the Bellabeat Ivy is designed for individuals who want to better understand how their menstrual cycle affects their overall wellness. The Ava tracker helps people conceive, while the Nowatch is a $300 tracker intended to promote mindfulness rather than traditional health tracking. The Whoop 4.0 targets hardcore athletes, with monthly membership fees ranging from $16.60 to $30.

Though the Oura Ring is not the only smart ring available, it stands out for being less distracting, more comfortable, and more discreet than a smartwatch. Other companies, such as Movano, Ultrahuman, Happy Health, and Samsung, are also developing smart rings. Despite the burgeoning interest in this form factor, smart rings still have a long way to go.

Ultimately, the challenge for screenless fitness trackers, including smart rings, lies in their limitations compared to smartwatches. Smartwatches simply offer more in terms of functionality. Any alternative needs to provide a compelling reason for consumers to pay the same amount or more for less.

In conclusion, the decline in fitness bands can be attributed to the increasing popularity and value of smartwatches. Smartwatches offer a superior user experience, more comprehensive features, and a broader range of functionalities. As a result, fitness bands have taken a backseat, primarily appealing to a niche market. While screenless wearables still exist, they cater to specific wellness needs or come with a significant price tag. Unless they can offer something unique and compelling, fitness bands are unlikely to make a significant comeback in the market, as smartwatches continue to dominate the wearable tech industry.