Category Archives: Apple

Our Love of Fitness Wearables Wearing Thin?

Apple smartwatch wearable tech

Apple smartwatch wearable tech

Wearable fitness devices are on track to become the defining technology of our age. Over 13 million fitness trackers were sold in 2015 with brands like Fitbit and Jawbone becoming household names. Analysts have predicted that by 2018, the wearable fitness tech market will be worth more than $50 billion a year, with devices becoming so sophisticated and ubiquitous the fitness and leisure industry will be fundamentally tech-driven.

This rush to digitize our fitness regimes has led many to hurl themselves off the gizmo ledge, going potty for the latest tracker, censor or gadget to help analyse physical activity. But is this scramble for fitness tech a help or hindrance to those looking to get in shape? How accurate is the performance data being recorded by wearable tech and, ultimately, do they help us achieve our fitness goals?

In 2015, an editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Wearable Devices as Facilitators, Not Drivers, of Health Behavior Change” cited a survey that found that more than half of people who’d purchased a fitness tracking device eventually gave up wearing it, and of those, a third stopped within six months.

‘All The Gear, No Idea’ is the pejorative expression often aimed at those more inclined to throw money at a sporting or fitness endeavour than pursue their goals using the old-fashioned tools of sweat and willpower.

Accuracy

But even aside from the questionable motivational qualities of fitness trackers, further critiques have included the accuracy of the data collected from fitness devices. One of the market’s biggest sellers, Fitbit, has recently come under scrutiny over claims the wrist-mounted heart-rate monitor featured in some of its product is inaccurate to a degree which could be considered potentially hazardous.

In late 2015, The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a review of studies that compared subjective and objective measures of what was termed “athlete well-being” throughout training. The objective measures included cutting-edge equipment, monitoring everything from heart rate to hormones; the subjective measures relied on more anecdotal evidence such as asking the athletes in the trial how they felt. The researchers observed that as the athletes trained, their own body-awareness registered changes in training stress with “superior sensitivity and consistency” to the state-of-the-art tech.

Hacker’s paradise

Further to the apparent inaccuracies of the data generated by our fitness trackers, sceptics are also quick to proclaim that fitness device technology industry is a hacker’s paradise.  Researchers in Canada recently reported that most fitness trackers haemorrhage personal performance data via Bluetooth which can easily be tapped by hackers.

Pseudo-benevolent surveillance

Futurists have long held the belief that consumer technology can be used as an overt form of surveillance and control. Imagine a workplace where your every step is recorded by management who have a close eye on your productivity and output. Picture life insurance companies tapping into your fitness device data and basing their premiums on your exercise, or lack thereof.

You can’t make a pig fat (or healthy) by weighing it

Further gripes aimed at the fitness device industry is that it is responsible for the over medicalizing of a society and that, in truth, it has become unhealthily obsessive about self-monitoring. We now have technology which allows us to measure and benchmark our sleep patterns, heart rate, blood sugar, reflexes and memory but as the old saying about weighing a pig describes, persistent measuring of a metric will not change it; only actions can do that.

Many will argue that, as with all new technology the societal and cultural tics which may have developed as a result of fitness devices’ rapid adoption are far outweighed by the positive impact they are having on a population struggling to get in shape. This positive impact is being driven in part by simple motivation – the digitized act of measuring how many steps you’re taking or how much sleep you’re getting will motivate you to seek more and improve your wellbeing.

 

Are we falling out of love with smartphones?

old-fashioned telephone

old-fashioned telephone

Are smartphones subject to the same retro recoil which has seen eBooks and eReader sales falter as consumers increasingly reach for ‘old fashioned’ technology?

Our infatuation with smartphones is just shy of a decade old, and yet it seems the grip these powerful gadgets have over us is beginning to loosen. iPhone sales are falling for the first time since forever and smartphone sales in general are beginning to stutter as market analysts point to market saturation, digital weariness, and cultural tastes giving retro tech a boost.

‘Switching off’ from digital has become de rigueur in the last couple of years as consumers’ interest in the digital revolution and, in particular, smartphone technology appears to be waning. Digital detox camps are all the rage these days, as willing punters shuffle off to the countryside, ceremonially ‘hand-over’ their gadgets as they disconnect with modernity and reconnect with Mother Nature.

But what’s behind this waning enthusiasm for smartphone technology? Is it simply over-exposure to a product which, despite giving millions of people access to resources and services, is continually being upgraded, repackaged and aggressively marketed to a weary audience? Or could it be that retro tech ticks functional, aesthetic and societal boxes which modern smartphone technology cannot?

Old-school cool

Rejecting mainstream technology is certainly not a recent phenomenon and is not restricted to just our mobile phones. Each new dawn in consumer technology is inevitably met with a recoil action ‘back to the old-school’.

Retro mobile phones in particular have always played a significant part in the cultural patchwork of Generation Y and the modern digital world. Ever since our mobile phones turned smart in the mid-noughties, there has existed pockets of youth culture clinging on to the kitschy plastic models of yesteryear. A quick search on eBay or mobile trade sites shows there is still a thriving market for second-hand ‘dumb’ phones.

For some people this retro stance is due to our complex relationship with consumer technology whereby the hardware with which we surround ourselves becomes an extension of our personality and self-image. To pull a Nokia 3310 nonchalantly from your pocket in a room full of iPhone users, is to make a point. Nobody is quite sure what this point is, but a point is certainly being made.

Substance over style

Alongside the stylistic virtues of traditional feature phones expounded by many, there also remains a stronghold of believers that traditional feature phones not only look better than modern smartphones, but are also functionally superior.

Billions of smartphone users around the world now carry a supercomputer in their pockets as mobile technology becomes ever more sophisticated. But despite the obvious technological bells & whistles on-board today’s tech, much of the basic functional telephony elements have either stood still or, in some cases like battery-life, gone backwards. This is why humble brick-phones from yesteryear refuse to die – there will always exist a group of users in any tech market that require, indeed actively seek out, the ‘no frills’ model.

Subsequently, there is now a growing market for mobile phones which hark back to the pre-smartphone era where phones were simply phones and did nothing beyond make calls and send text messages. The new Punkt M01, for example, boasts an impressive three weeks of battery life at a time when the modern smartphone barely lasts longer than a day.

When will retro tech die?

There will always remain pockets within consumer technology markets whose tastes lean towards the vintage, whether that be for practical or stylistic reasons.

And, like all powerful new technologies, the fixation we once felt towards  our smartphones has evolved into an everyday familiarity. We no longer stare, goggle-eyed in awe, at each wondrous new release from the likes of Apple and Samsung, but we still ritualistically hand over our cash to ensure we own the latest cutting-edge tech.