You’ll be fit, just watch

Laura Devine runs on the track wearing her Fitbit Thursday September 25, 2014. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)
Laura Devine runs on the track wearing her Fitbit Thursday September 25, 2014. (Martin Bustamante/ Xpress Magazine)

Apple’s watch is coming, and soon we will all be fit.

Of course, that is exaggerating. Not everyone will buy the new watch and magically be more fit. But people are interested in this marriage of tech and fitness. So interested, it is now a $330 million dollar industry. The new Apple product, set to be on the market in early 2015, will work as an extension to the iPhone. From the watch, users can view the information they already monitor daily, like messages, events, maps, and email – all from their wrist. It might not sound much different other smartwatches, like the Pebble, but this data will also include statistics we are not exactly used to seeing on the same screen as our text messages.

The watch will come in two sizes, 1.4 inches by 1.6 inches, and 1.2 inches by 1.5 inches. It will be available in stainless steel, aluminum – even gold. The bands come in a few varieties as well, including a sports style and leather. A digital “crown,” or knob, located on the side of the watch will be the main control feature, allowing users to switch through texts, events, and maps by turning or pressing it down.

The band tracks movement, heart rate, minutes spent standing instead of sitting, and even calories burned. And if it did not have your heart before, it does now. It also allows users a more intimate type of communication by the ability to feel a friend’s live heartbeat on their own watch.

Other companies have already capitalized on this type of data collection. Fitbit’s bands inform users of steps taken, calories burned, level of activity throughout the day, and even their sleep cycle. The company’s most basic trackers starts at $60 and cap at $100 for the most comprehensive tracker that also monitors sleep cycles. Jawbone’s wristband called “UP” does all of the same things and can even work with a third-party application to give users “nudges” throughout the day when it senses they are close to a goal.

Misfit released one of the most affordable activity trackers yet this past September. Like UP and Fitbit, Misfit’s wristband, called “Flash,” also tracks calories, distance, and sleep, but for only $50.

SF State senior Laura Devine jogs and lifts weights about five days out of the week. She bought a Fitbit Flex in June because it seemed to suit her lifestyle.

“I’m one of those people who’s very aware of what they’re eating and their fitness,” she says. “And it seemed appealing. It tracks steps, distance. It helps you set up goals, it tracks your sleep.”

But the real value of the band is in the data aggregation. Devine views all of her up-to- date fitness statistics from her computer. It is easy and interesting to view, she says.

Her Fitbit Flex has also revealed things about herself she never thought about before. “I don’t think people realize how much time we spend sitting around doing nothing,” she says. “ It allows you to see, ‘Oh, wow, I was a bum that day.’ Fitbit is this reminder to get up and get moving, and it congratulates you when you do.”

Though innovative and comprehensive, Apple Watch is a bit late to the game. Rather than jumping in and quickly producing any type of band just to compete, the company planted its feet and waited. So, in typical Apple fashion, when the product is released next year, it will be inclusive and likely done right. And in January, many will probably line up at the doors for the watch because of the name behind it and quality guarantee they expect. Others will clamor for the product because of its non-fitness-related features, like reading texts and getting directions.





But some will buy this for another reason: they now believe that their health – like finances and messages – is important and easy enough to monitor daily. This could be the starting point of a mass culture shift.

MobiHealthNews reported the fitness device market to be worth $330 million at the end of 2013. And research suggests it will reach $2 billion worldwide by 2018, according to the same report.

Wearable fitness technology could seriously change how we maintain our health. Instead of asking the doctor how you are doing, you will be able to see for yourself – and you will know the specifics. You will know that three days out of the week, you sit most of the day, and on those same days, your level of brisk activity hits an all-time low.

The purpose of these gadgets is to get people moving, but the strategy is upfront and personal. For the first time ever, people are seeing proof of what they did or did not do that day. They can see how much time they spent sitting at a desk or in front of a television. These customized, real-time updates are appealing to many, the numbers show.

It is impossible to gauge the positive long-term effects in health so early in the game. But recent data from Fitbit showed that its users increased their number of steps taken in a day by 43 percent on average since they began using the devices.

The trend is making waves in the business world as well.

Derek Newell, Chief Executive Officer of JIFF, a technology firm that provides digital health tools to companies, has seen an improvement. Speaking at a consumer electronics show earlier this year, he says that digital technology has improved employee wellness programs and lowered the cost of the company’s overall investment. He attributes this to the active, “real-time” nature of the applications.

But not everyone is excited about this high-tech form of fitness tracking. Freshman Martin K. does weight lifting a few times a week and he is hesitant to use wearable fitness trackers.

“I’m just not used to it,” he says. “It’s sort of new, and it takes time for someone to adopt it. I don’t feel comfortable wearing something like that when I work out. I don’t think I would find it useful.”

So not everyone is won over, and will sink $50 or more into a gadget simply because it is the next “it thing.” Still, the industry is steadily growing.

But with a company like Apple endorsing wearable fitness tech, it does not sound so crazy to say this trend could change things – in health and in healthcare.

James Milligan, community manager at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, says if the devices can do what they are intended to do, he expects a reduction in healthcare bills. But wearables are not the only a piece of the puzzle.

As of now, the watch is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but that could change if lots of consumers with serious health conditions begin to depend on the watch for aid.

“Anything that gets people moving, like a Fitbit is a great idea,” Milligan says. “Whether it will reduce healthcare costs in the future… I presume it will if people can invest in healthy eating and active living.”

So Apple’s watch is coming early next year. We will be able to send our heartbeats to other users, we will be able to view our distance walked, and we will be able to see the number of times we stood up in the day.

But the milestone is bigger than Apple’s next “it” product. We will soon monitor our health as easily as we do our text messages.