Friends, barely a week goes by without something popping up on my news feed about how some new wearable device or app, or app-enabled device, is going to be a ‘disruptive technology’ that will destroy traditional models of healthcare.
And here’s the thing: the potential of wearable technology is absolutely massive, and sooner or later someone is going to use it to create a product that will change the social world. It will be like the first MP3 player; an innovation that will start entirely new trends in technology.
But none of the current generation of wearables will do this.
Because they are not trends.
They are fads.
And if you look at the “evidence” that they use to support their claims you will see that they are all talking bullshit.
To explain why I believe this let’s look at FitBit, one of the most popular wearable “fitness trackers” (note the quotation marks, they are important).
FitBit claims that it can measure how many steps you take, what distance you’ve covered in a day, how active you are in general, how many calories you’ve burned, plus a few other metrics that are important for health, and that it can do all of this passively just by you wearing it or carrying it.
Problem is there is no evidence on their website to support any of these claims.
And actual, independent researchers are pretty sure they’re lying.
Distance moved? Nope, there were differences between the wearable and medical specialists that were “statistically significant“.
Heart rate? Nope, they’re currently getting sued because the data was so inaccurate it might theoretically threaten the user’s health, with some user’s heart rates being double what the FitBit was saying.
Calories burned/Energy Expenditure? Nope, researchers tested a dozen different wearables including ones from FitBit and found that none of them were taking accurate measurements.
But please don’t think I’m picking on FitBit. The fact is that these issues can be found with every single health wearable that I’ve looked at (if you know of one that is better please post in the comments section). Even the Apple Watch ran into issues when it was found that it was pretty much worthless on anyone with a wrist tattoo.
And sure, that might seem like a niche problem until you realise that the exact same issue implies that current wearables will work less effectively if you’re ‘too black’ for them.
I’m not even joking.
But on the other hand you can barely visit the ‘gadget’ pages of major science and technology websites (not to mention financial ones) without running into some expert saying that the next crop of wearables are going to be wildly successful.
So on the one hand there’s me, and science, saying that wearables are bullshit.
On the other hand you have analysts saying that they will be wildly successful.
So who is right?
Well, unfortunately it’s probably the case that we’re both right.
It is entirely possible that wearables are bullshit, and will still be wildly successful.
It is possible that the stupid little things won’t be able to reliably do any of the things they claim they can do, and yet still be bought by millions of people who are caught up in the hype.
So they are bullshit. And they will still probably make a fortune.
But that popularity won’t last, because bullshit wearables cannot start a new trend, they can only become a fad, something that is popular briefly, and then dies out.
The iPod was the start of a trend in MP3 players because it did exactly what it said it was going to do, and did it wonderfully.
The current crop of wearables are a fad because over time people will catch on to the fact that they don’t work and stop using them.
In order to disagree with this you would have to believe that the wearable provides some benefit to the user in spite of the fact that it doesn’t actually work.
Is that possible? Sure.
For example the placebo effect is a powerful thing, and so is the sunk-cost fallacy.
But are those two errors of thought enough to start a “trend” that will “disrupt” industries that are already successful?
I certainly hope not.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]