Wearable devices are quickly becoming a crucial part of many corporate wellness programs. Sale of wearable activity trackers, last year, reached 8 million, a figure predicted to grow to 23 million by the end of 2015, and reach 47 million by 2017.1 Fitbit, which sold an estimated 67 percent of all activity tracking devices purchased in 2013 2 and 50 percent in 2014 3, is the leader in the corporate wellness wearables market.
However, Fitbit may not be the ideal candidate for corporate wellness programs. To get an idea of where Fitbit falls, begin by examining how the manufacturer stores data. HealthKit is a new framework from Apple that allows developers to share and access data from a single location. The tool was unveiled with Apple's new iOS 8.
Google Fit is a similar tool, but from the tech giant. These pieces of software easily track and aggregate health and fitness data for corporate wellness professionals from multiple devices. The key to employer success is collecting and aggregating data. Fitbit has no plans, as of yet, to integrate with HealthKit or Google Fit.
This means keeping track of health data from employees and their wearables will be difficult. So, too, will be ROI.So how do you track Fitbit users? Industry sources believe Fitbit does not play nice with competitors, which makes coordination difficult. Apparently, Fitbit wants to limit employers to the manufacturer's technology platform and its associated wearables. This means employees who already own a Jawbone or Garmin can't participate in the program and their employers can't collect data.
This is a serious problem, one in which I believe will result in both less wearable use and participation in employer wellness programs. Employers who want to use Fitbit devices for their wellness programs will need a custom portal build by Fitbit. A low-level service would require 1,000 employees and could cost the employer roughly $15,000 to build.
In this scenario, an employer may need to pay $15,000 for the portal and buy 1,000 devices before even integrating the system into a wellness program. The problem of price is further compounded when employers purchase devices for their employees. Fitbit devices can be costly, especially when purchased directly and in bulk.
Many employers find purchasing from a third party rather than directly from Fitbit to be less expensive. BYOD - bring your own device -- is a common workplace policy. This means employers encourage their employees to use their personal wearable devices. Some employers realize that they can't force employees to use a wearable device. Each individual is different and wants a device with the specific features, design and functionality that suits them best.
Employees can't be forced to wear a device that they don't like. On the other hand, employers are finding that they can collect more data when their employees are able to choose from multiple wearables that are compatible to more than one technology platform. However, the reality is that when employers utilize a wearable like Fitbit without HealthKit and Google Fit compatibility, employers will face difficulty synchronizing data from these devices.
Will Fitbit continue to lead the pack, or will the device manufacturer lose footing? Because corporate wellness is a major priority, does Fitbit have a sustainable long-term business model that will ensure success for the company and for the employers who purchase and use their wearables as well? Will other wearable manufacturers make this same mistake? Or will Fitbit correct itself?
About the Author
Jonathan Edelheit, JD, is Editor-in-Chief of Corporate Wellness Magazine and CEO of the Employer Healthcare& Benefits Congress; firstname.lastname@example.org
1. "1.6 Million Smart Bands Shipped in H2 2013"; Newsroom; Canalys; Feb. 12, 2014; http://www.canalys.com/newsroom/16-million-smart-bands-shipped-h2-2013; Accessed, July 28,2014.
2. Doltan, B; "Fibit Shipped the Most Activity Trackers in 2013"; Mobile Health News; Jan. 8, 2014; http://mobihealthnews.com/28566/fitbit-shipped-themost-activity-trackers-in-2013/; Accessed July 28, 2014.
3. Kelly, S. M.;"Nike Who? Fitbit Dominates 50% of Global Wearables Market"; Mashable; May 23, 2014; http://mashable.com/2014/05/23/fitbit-wearables-sales/; Accessed July 28, 2015.