How Fitbit revolutionized pedometers

Fitbit, if you’ve heard of it, is relatively new to the market. For context, the first iPhone came out in mid 2007 and the first Fitbit, the Fitbit Tracker, was released in late 2008, making it just slightly newer than the beloved Apple iPhone.

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The new Fitbit Alta

Prior to Fitbit, there were plain pedometers that mostly just tracked steps and distance. Aside from pen and paper tracking and commitment to memory, there weren’t any other prominent ways of tracking individual health metrics. That alone makes it fairly clear why Fitbit revolutionized its market and proved itself to be a worthy innovation.

Physically, a Fitbit often looks like a wristband or a watch. Earlier versions of the device featured a clip that you could use to attach it to your waistband or neckline in order to track your activity. Models that were designed to be used in this way were the original Tracker, Ultra, and One. Now, the design of Fitbits encompasses true wearable technology. They frequently feature a silicone or plastic wristband in a range of colors and have an interface that ranges from simple with blinking dots to complex with a full step count and even the time.

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Fitbit Charge, Charge HR, and Surge.

A major perk of these designs is that they are often just dismissed as a watch or a bracelet, not as a personal metrics tracking device. The most recent models include the Fitbit Surge, Blaze, and Alta and they all have almost the same features such as step counting, flight counting, distance walked, and sleep tracking. The only feature that only appears on certain models is the heart rate monitor.

Most of the innovation that this product holds is in its design and capabilities. For what it is, which is a suped up pedometer, many people would probably expect something that clips onto clothing and is worn that way. Because of all the additional features they have that converges many products into one, Fitbit is a great success in the health and fitness industry.

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Fitbit vs. Apple Watch

An added perk? Fitbit is cheaper than competitors such as the Apple Watch, which retails starting at $299. The cheapest Fitbit is the Zip (which is the simplest form of Fitbit and is essentially a slightly improved pedometer) that costs a small $59.95.

On the more technical side, Fitbit incorporates a lot of small mechanisms into its whole product. Most current models include an altimeter, accelerometer, a heart rate monitor, calorie counter, and basic pedometer functions like distance traveled. All devices are Bluetooth compatible and can be synced to a phone or a computer.These can be viewed in real time through the Fitbit app or the website on a computer. One of the simplest models, the Fitbit Flex, also gives the option to input exercise, sleep, calories, and weight directly through the app.

The innovation that surrounds this device has bled into the market in other ways besides just being the very first thing of its kind. A great many competitors have arisen and while they each hold their own, Fitbit is still on top. Nike released its Fuelband in 2013 as a direct competitor, yet it did not succeed in the way Fitbit has and was not marketed as well.

How have people been using it? Well, some interesting situations have arisen from the data that Fitbit collects.

A man learned his wife was pregnant through her own Fitbit data. The case goes that her heart rate was reading unusually high and he expected that something was wrong with the

Husband and wife never expected their Fitbit would tell them this ...
Data for Fitbit pregnancy

heart rate sensor in the device. He was wrong as it wasn’t the device’s sensor at all, his wife was actually pregnant.

On the more dangerous side, a man from New Jersey’s heart rate was reading unusually high and he proceeded to have a seizure. Upon viewing the Fitbit’s data, his heart rate had spiked 3 hours prior, and the device was attributed to saving his life.

Other more regular and less dangerous usage basically involves what the Fitbit was designed for, which is logging activity data. An article by Buzzfeed says that people who own a Fitbit seem to be very committed and logged data in at least 70 or the last 90 days at the time the data was evaluated.

Simply from personal experience, Fitbit has begun its diffusion and is likely now in the early majority category. There is no recent data available on how many people own Fitbits, so it is hard to definitively say exactly where it is currently at. People around me of all ages, largely from 18-30, seem to be interested in Fitbits and own them for personal use.

Fitbit holds a lot of success in that it is innovative, the first of its kind. It is successful because of the convergence its makers have taken into consideration for product design. It eliminates the need for a very wire-y heart rate monitor, a step counter and distance tracker, and a sleep study at a sleep lab as many models have the sleep tracking feature.

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Wearable device statistics

There are downsides to everything, though. Fitbits are only useful if you use them. Otherwise, they can be a money sink. Not taking the time to learn how to get the most out of a device can also serve as a negative impact because it could put the user off to actually using it to benefit themselves. Additionally, there is the potential for Fitbit to cause users to gain weight, mostly in small amounts, because they are likely to increase their levels of activity. In turn, this may lead to the idea that they can eat more and over-supplement the calories burned.

The positives of Fitbit far outweigh the negatives. The data the device collects shows people how active they may or may not be. From this, many people are willing to make positive changes in their lives by increasing activity level and in turn, those who are overweight will likely lose weight. The sleep tracker explicitly shows movement throughout the night which can help people who often find themselves feeling restless. In more extreme cases, Fitbits can display the onset of seizures, heart attacks, and even discover a previously unknown pregnancy.

The good that Fitbit can do and has already done is endless.

Tech developments in the health and fitness world

As we’ve touched on before, there truly wasn’t a lot of technology that went into the health and fitness industry, at least common technology for personal use, for a very long time. Pedometers were one thing, yet they were still limited

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Tracking of the past

in function and the overall benefit from using them. Even though they still linger today, they didn’t necessary revolutionize the space.

 

Much more recently, in the past two decades, this is suddenly not the case anymore. A whole range of new technology and features of these technologies have become prevalent and expanded the space as a whole in a positive way.

Let’s flashback to when computers were becoming a commodity for a more affordable price in the average American consumer’s homes.With the introduction of the internet being available as a utility in people’s homes, online developments surged first. One of the first big-impact health and fitness space transformers was the introduction of online forums.

Though this was mentioned in the last post, online forums, once and still sometimes called message boards, were one of the first things that computers allowed the creation of. While it may be somewhat debatable that online health and fitness forums are a technological advancement by themselves, it can’t be argued that they didn’t change the space.

Health and fitness junkies and casuals alike now had a place to frequent that harbored
people with interest in the same topic. Even only concentrating on the health side of that, many forums also popped up for diseases, degenerative disorders, and more. These did their part in reinforcing the accountability of other people on each other. Many people took these communities to be the motivation they needed to reach their goals whether that be weight loss, eating healthier, or making dietary changes to aid with pre-existing health problems. This improved upon the space due to the fact that despite the virtual connection, it was easy to bring together a community of people with a common interest.

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A health and fitness forum

 

Along with the internet’s introduction and rise in popularity, personal wearable heart rate monitors also began to take off. When I was a student in 6th grade, my elementary school received a grant to buy as all personal heart rate monitors to wear during our physical

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Polar WearLink wearable heart rate monitor

education classes. This is how I knew they were taking off in the health and fitness
tracking space. Though they are a bit different and less versatile than this blog’s main focus of Fitbit, they have proven to still be on the rise. According to Statista, there has been an increase of 20.85 million shipments of healthcare-related monitors from 2013 to 2015. Many thought they were obsolete but the fitness enthusiasts of the world must disagree as they are still being adopted.

 

Another new communication technology that has advanced this space is the introduction

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MyFitnessPal mobile app interface

of smartphones, and specifically the app MyFitnessPal that was launched in 2005. While this software also has dual function as a desktop and mobile website, the app is regularly
used by those who track while on the go. It features a water and exercise input tracker, the ability to sync to wearable tech like Fitbit or the Nike Fuelband, and calorie counting abilities. In addition to this, it has forums tied into it so the community can interact.

Because the MyFitnessPal app and website are so well designed, the ease of use factor is very high which is likely a feature that appeals to its older users who may not be as well versed in technology. An article by MobiHealthNews anchors MyFitnessPal as having 40 million users. This is quite significant, even when compared to the Facebook app having 500 million downloads worldwide as of 2015. Unsurprisingly, with Facebook being the most popular social network, it would have more downloads than a more niche app that caters to certain demographics and psychographics.

Outside of the realm of software that counts calories, there are a lot of run-tracking apps that have hit the market and drastically changed the space. One of the most notable ones is called Couch to 5k. The premise of it is that the user will use the software daily or every certain amount of time to begin running and eventually hit the goal of running a 5k.

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Couch to 5k

Even more recently, the Fitbit was introduced, along with several other competitors all in the form of wearable tech. These reinforce the use of smartphones and internet based tech to track health and fitness indicators. Often, they add a Bluetooth connection component in which the devices themselves are able to be synced to a smartphone or a computer. They do a majority of the tracking for the user. Sleep tracking on these devices is a semi-

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The original Fitbit One

manual input and exercise, food, and water intake are manual input. Everything else is logged and organized by the device and subsequently displayed by an app or a website to the user.

A lot of the revolution in this aspect of health and fitness tracking is due to the fact that most of it is web-based now rather than hard data from a device without an internet connection. The biggest game-changer was the invention of the internet and the small technological revolution that came with smartphones.

Coupled with the change of technology and how we use it, a lot of the norms surrounding how we track these things about ourselves have changed, too. PewInternet states that out of those who track a health and fitness indicator, 21% use some form of smartphone or other technology to do so. This presents itself as a seemingly significant number because we must not forget that the initial intention of mobile phones at all was to be able to call anywhere, which then expanded to texting, calendar and calculator functions, all the way to where we are now.

It is definitely not unheard of to look at someone’s phone and notice they have some kind

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Smartphones

of health tracking app whereas several decades ago, having a journal of what you’ve eaten
in a day and the workouts you did may be seen as obsessive or perhaps even indicative of a problem.

Health and fitness tracking has come a long way, from pen and paper or a friend being accountable to Bluetooth devices that sync straight to a smartphone. For a long period of time, the space was relatively undeveloped, but now it is flourishing.

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The past of health and exercise tracking

According to PewInternet, 69% of adults track a health indicator for themselves or someone else. That’s a huge number of people doing one thing that didn’t take off in a digital form for such a long time.

Health and fitness tracking is something people have been partaking in, even in the most basic ways, for a very very long time. Prior to the internet, there weren’t an exceptional amount of ways to track how many repetitions you did, what you ate in a day, or how long your run was. As expected, many people just committed those things to memory or hit their daily goals and moved on, but for the more strict, good old fashioned pen and paper did the trick. PewInternet’s research also revealed that 49% of the adults who track do so only by committing to memory. This number was surely even larger before smartphones and health apps came into play as this survey factored in technology as a potential method for tracking health data.

Abraham Louis-Perrelet

The point is, there weren’t heaps of technologies to keep track of everything you did in a day and to base your health goals on. Sure, the mechanism for pedometers was invented in 1780 by a man named Abraham-Louis Perrelet, but it is arguable when they really took off as a form of health technology (Datacomm). They noticably started to take off around the late 1990s to early 2000s as their technology became more accurate. There were even a few floating around my house when I was young. Step tracking was and still is a good way to monitor a basic level of activity, but it

Pedometer from the early 2000s

didn’t offer much else as a pedometer gives you a raw number with no mention of intensity, time span, or heart rate.

The main boom for health and fitness technology really hit and blew up starting around the mid-1990s, although the exact line is unclear, and continues with great force to this day. The past was a fairly simple time in the space of health tracking.

If you’ve had the internet for at least 10 years, you’ve probably come across a health and exercise forum at one point or another. Forums have been around since the dawn of the internet and there has been one for nearly everything imaginable. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were successful, but regardless, they existed and still linger currently. Some of the most active ones today are Men’s Health and WorldFitness Training.

 

1st generation iPhone

Still, the most important part of these new technologies was yet to come. Let’s fast forward to when smartphones came onto the market. The release of the iPhone in 2007 was a game changer for the health and fitness industry (The Guardian). It opened up countless new doors for those interested in tracking their day-to-day habits through the usage of apps, even if it was how many days they went without smoking. To say it was revolutionary is to put it lightly. At the present day, Apple even includes something called the Health app in new versions of iOS which holds many of the same functions as other health tracking apps on the market.

Smartphones advanced the playing field for health and exercise tracking and devices by millions of miles. All of the tracking norms that once were in place suddenly were almost obsolete, notably for the younger, more tech-savvy generation. Once “app developer” became a real title, new communication technologies for the health and fitness space truly expanded.

In 2009, the Fitbit was born. They released their very first activity tracker that was worn to be clipped to the waist, much like a pedometer would be. Its founders didn’t expect it to have the success that it actually did. To put it into perspective, they expected 5 preorders and truly hoped for 50 (Wareable). How many did they actually get?

2,000.

Fitbit’s initial launch in 2009 received 2,000 preorders, which is a truly staggering number considering they didn’t expect close to that many. The most innovative thing about the Fitbit that goes beyond the tracker’s capabilities is how users are able to access them. The device comes along with an app (and the optional ability to sync it to the computer and view its data online) that is compatible with both Android and iOS.

Fitbit’s app interface

Everything the user has done in a day is available instantly through a Bluetooth connection right there on the app or the web. Fitbit offers everything anyone looking to health and exercise track could want in such a small, compact device. Some of the viewable stats include steps, calories burned, distance walked, hours of sleep and sleep movements, as well as other manual input tracking capabilities such as food and water.

Tracking activity makes you more aware of what you are actually doing in a day versus what you think you are doing (Washington Post). These kinds of devices, Fitbit’s competitors included, often enable the user to share their data online which can lead to some harmless competition that usually increases activity.

It’s incredible how over the past 6 decades, so many new communication technologies have been developed. The past of health tracking is fairly straightforward and holds just as much as one would expect in terms of how it progressed. From memory and paper and pen to pedometers to forums to a limitless smartphone and Internet market, the space of health and exercise tracking has come a very long way in a very short time.

References:

Datacomm Perrelet

PewInternet

Wareable

The Guardian

Washington Post