Wearables Wear Thin

Only a few years ago, wearable computing seemed like something straight out of a science fiction novel. But radical advances in microprocessors and breathtaking gains in miniaturization have made the concept very real.

Fitbits and other activity trackers are everywhere, smart watches have moved from the drawing board to the wrist, and clothing manufacturers are beginning to embed circuits in shirts, bras and other apparel. Smart clothing shipments will grow from 140,000 units in 2013 to 10.2 million units by 2020, according to a new report from AZO Sensors.

In fact, article after article beckons with the promise of wearable technology and how it can transform out sedentary and increasingly obese society into a nation of fitness fanatics. Already, these devices measure activity level, steps, distance, calories burned and other metrics.

Next stop? Heart rate and muscle activity. Many health experts predict that these devices will revolutionize wellness.

Unfortunately, they’re probably dead wrong. I’ve used fitness trackers consistently for a couple of years. Despite all the hype, you still have to exercise.

Even if you adopt a regular regimen and stick with it, you’re likely to receive information that’s helpful but not always accurate. For instance, when I walk or run 5 miles on a treadmill, my Fitbit shows about 4 miles. But when I walk outside, 5 miles actually registers as 5 miles.

What’s more, through the miracle of APIs, the device and the treadmill connect to the MyFitnessPal app on my iPhone. This introduces some very cool capabilities, including a snapshot of my daily calorie intake and calorie burn (I log every meal using MyFitnessPal).

Unfortunately, even hitting my targets (and I have had my base metabolism tested) causes me to gain weight over time. So, apparently, somewhere in the jumble of measures, equations and algorithms, something is amiss.

Let’s face it, unless you’re highly motivated, the whole process can become tedious and time-consuming. The fun factor quickly fades. Jackdaw research found that the abandonment rate for these fitness devices is around 50 percent.

I have no doubt that at some point, wearables will become much smarter and better. They will eventually provide extremely accurate details about our bodies.

But, alas, human nature is what it is, and most of us revert to our old bad habits. Change requires more than a device. It requires a fundamental change in mindset.