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Are smartphones better than wearables for measuring fitness?

2015-02-20

Are smartphones better than wearables for measuring fitness?

A new study is reporting that smartphones make much better activity and fitness trackers than bracelets or other wearable devices.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, found that many fitness trackers aren't accurate, and those that are just aren’t being used by enough people. And while the study didn't measure the accuracy of smartphone apps, it said the apps are much less expensive than wearables and much easier to use, making them more likely to be adopted and used continuously.

The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, hits hard at the fast-growing, consumer-facing wearables market, and points to a significant problem that has kept the healthcare community from jumping on that bandwagon. To wit: Doctors aren't interested in what wearable health monitors are tracking if that data can't be validated.

According to researchers, wearable fitness trackers rely heavily on ease of use and adaptation to one's daily routine – they need to be unobtrusive and fashionable. But if they data they collect isn't accurate, they could do more harm than good. For example, a bracelet that incorrectly tells its user that he or she has lost weight or exercised more might convince the user to eat more or exercise less.

Also significant is product penetration. Less than 10 percent of the population owns an activity tracker, the study says, while roughly 75 percent own a smartphone.

The study's conclusion, says Mihesh S. Patel, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is that smartphones offer a better entry point for health and wellness monitoring, while wearable fitness trackers aren't motivating people and aren't gaining enough traction for continued success.

In short, almost everyone owns a smartphone, and it would be much simpler to use that to measure health and fitness than to go out and acquire a separate monitor and commit to using it.

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