The popularity of fitness trackers continues to rise, with 110 million wearable sensors sold worldwide in 2016 (IDC forecasts). Despite this growth, there's lots of evidence to show that many people find it hard to maintain fitness using their devices and often they just end up in a drawer. According to Gartner, 30% abandon their devices in the first few months.
On the face of it you'd expect fitness trackers to get better use. People are motivated to get fit and do exercise for various reasons: losing weight, feeling good, improving performance, sleeping better. A fitness tracking device promises the tools, data and insights to keep you on track.
So why do they fail?
If we take Nir Eyal's 'Hooked model' for building habit-making products, again it seems like fitness trackers should work. The model suggests that the most addictive products work by getting people into hooked loops.
Applied to fitness trackers it could work like this:
Why then do so many people give up despite this?
Triggers can be internal (I feel over-weight and want to exercise) and external (app prompts a message telling me to exercise). Not many fitness devices or apps do a good job of triggering users at the right time to move back into the hooked life-cycle. How useful is that reminder to move every 20 minutes?
One problem is the way reward is delivered. If you take a successful habit forming product like Facebook, you can see that reward is often variable; a key element of a successful 'Hooked Model'. We are triggered to check our feed by the 'big red' notification bubble at the top of the screen. Most of the time the update is uninteresting, but it's that 10% nugget that keeps users coming back to check their feed time and time again. Variable reward is a well studied psychological phenomena and is one of the reason's gambling is so addictive.
With fitness trackers there are very little variable rewards. Typically users just finish their session and then optionally review session stats on a device. There aren't really any gold nuggets. We just see some performance stats and if we don't see an improvement over time this becomes boring pretty quickly. It also often takes time to see improvements in fitness performance including weight loss, which people don't have the patience for.
The other way most fitness apps fail is that investing lots of time to develop your fitness data doesn't really give much value unless you are a serious athlete. How many average users are doing anything useful with the data they have collected? Most of the apps don't give you any insights to help you improve further. The data soon becomes a bit gimmicky.
Compare this to Facebook, where users have years of photos and social connections in one place. Fear of missing out is a real thing and this is why users get hooked on platforms like Facebook. That same pressure doesn't really happen with fitness trackers. It's too easy to psychologically extract yourself from the platform.
It’s too easy to psychologically extract yourself from a fitness tracker
The bottom line is that fitness trackers fail for different reasons, but it's often linked to the fact people can't form and keep the right habits. Platforms that take advantage of human psychology and make fitness more fun and addictive will likely be more successful.
At Webcredible we are currently exploring what motivates people to use technology for fitness. Get in touch to find out more.
Platforms that take advantage of human psychology and make fitness more fun and addictive will likely be more successful.