Don’t tell Paul Landau that the rise of wearable technology has happened overnight, because his company, Fitbug, has been working with fitness trackers and the quantified self movement for the last nine years. Returning from CES 2014, Landau and Fitbug are well placed to capitalise on the opportunities now becoming clear in the consumer space.
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Founded by Landau in 2005, Fitbug is built around the rising issues of inactivity and obesity. Landau was looking for an approach that encouraged and educated people, rather than unrealistic programs. “Walking is ubiquitous,” he explained to me earlier this month, “so I viewed activity tracking plus online coaching and support as an effective way to help people to understand their current lifestyle and then help them to turn good intentions into action.”
Back in 2005 there was no craze for wearable technology that tracked every move, so starting into a brand new market required a different approach than one we see today. Landau went for a B2B approach, partnering with employee wellness programs and health insurers. Fitbug was a way to add value to existing programs. Now that fitness and wearables are viable in the consumer space, Fitbug has real world experience and a head-start in terms of knowledge and experience over the start-ups heading into the space.
There are clearly opportunities out there right now. With a predicted market of $8bn by 2018 (Accenture’s forecast) Fitbug “aspires to own a significant piece of it” Landau tells me. But where is the company’s strength as 2014 – the year of the wearable – dawns?
“We’ve seen a device ‘arms race’ unfold, however I believe this emphasis is wrong. Sure the device has to be ‘sexy’ and effective – consumers must be excited to wear it, but, the device is just the starting point – it’s the enabler that should be used to help people achieve a certain health goal; whether its to lose weight, get fitter, manage a health risk and so on…
“It’s the data that comes off the device that must be the focus – how this can be used to provide feedback, advice and encouragement that will help individuals to achieve the outcomes that are important to them.”
Which is where Landau comes back to that original vision from 2005 of positive feedback loops to help people better themselves. The hardware is not the answer, the hardware is the route to the answer. “Tracking devices and sensors should be viewed as the ‘enabler’; it’s what you do with the data that is pivotal.
“In an emerging market, the early adopters of ‘devices’ are often tech-savvy individuals who are interested in self-tracking, however we are now at stage of adoption where there is broader interest by the general public – ‘real people’ – who would be willing to engage with wearable technology if it was geared towards their aspirations.
“So, looking forward Fitbug is building a range of specific plans that will leverage the data collected and employ it to help people make changes that can help them achieve specific outcomes when coupled with customized feedback, advice and encouragement.”
Which leads to the issue of personal data. This is a hot topic at the moment in general, but when you are discussing health data, consumers are a touch more wary. There is a huge amount of proactive protection going on in this industry, and Fitbug is no exception, as Landau lays out. “For example all the data is encrypted and it’s all anonymized. Additionally we take great care with our data and sharing policies to ensure it’s only accessed by authorized individuals or partners.”
Landau has clear thoughts on what comes next for the sector. The explosion of data, new sensors, and more opportunities to collect information is a boon and a curse. Outside of the hardcore, Fitbug still prizes simplicity. The company will focus on being a service provider first, and helping their customers achieve their own personal goals this year.
“It’s important not to over complicate things and keep this simple. There’s a temptation to keep adding more, just because you can, but there needs to be a great deal of discipline and focus on what the majority of users want and need to benefit most from this technology.”