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Have we already seen the last of fitness bands?

Not long ago, activity trackers, popularly known as fitness bands, rose to prominence in the health monitoring space. These compact pieces of hardware emerged as a robust response to the growing demand for tracking health on the go. Initially developed as pedometers, these wearables have evolved into sophisticated devices that track your activity, including steps, heart rate, sleep duration, and much more. Besides, they encourage a healthy lifestyle by making fitness data readily available.

However, whether seen as an improvement or a loss, the basic fitness bands from a few years ago have faded into obscurity. Gone are the likes of the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up, or Misfit Ray, with few contemporary equivalents. Devices like Amazfit Band 7, Fitbit Inspire 3, Garmin Vivosmart 5, and Xiaomi’s Mi Band 7 come close, but the issue lies in their screen integration.

Back in 2014, people proudly sported their Fitbits and Garmins, spoiled for choice with alternatives. Now, there’s a notable scarcity of intriguing fitness bands to assess. It has people wondering: What happened to all the fitness bands?

Did smartwatches kill fitness bands?

One would expect a greater abundance of fitness bands, as they tend to avoid many problems afflicting smartwatches. Fitness bands boast lasting power, often running for weeks on a single charge, unlike flagship smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, and Google, which require daily or bi-daily charging. These bands are unobtrusive, complementing stylish mechanical watches, ideal for continuous wear. You won’t stumble upon a fitness band as chunky as the Apple Watch Ultra. Notification overload is a genuine concern, and smartwatches tend to be pricier than fitness bands, on the whole.

Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that smartwatches hold a broader range of capabilities. Although fitness bands, regardless of whether they have screens, often enjoy longer battery life, the necessity to reach for your phone remains for various tasks. Smartwatches can’t fully supplant your phone, but they effectively reduce tech fatigue by allowing you to check your phone far less frequently while maintaining connectivity.

Decreasing smartwatch prices isn’t the only reason

Not solely due to the decrease in smartwatch prices, the distinction between fitness bands and smartwatches has blurred, creating a sense that smartwatches offer superior value. This trend has been ongoing, with a significant shift observed in 2021, evident in Fitbit’s product lineup. The Fitbit Charge 5 debuted at $180, marking a $30 hike from its predecessor. Simultaneously, the Luxe, positioned as an upscale fitness band, was introduced at $150 for the standard version and an astonishing $200 for the special edition. In comparison, the midrange Versa 3 smartwatch came in at $230. Even if it did not fully utilize all Versa’s added features, it felt like a more compelling purchase purely because of its broader capabilities.

Fitbit aside, in 2021, Apple offered the Series 3 and SE models at $180 and $280, while Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 had a starting price of $250. Amazfit’s GTR and GTS 3 smartwatches, each priced at $180, boasted comparable, if not superior, functionality when compared to the Charge 5.

Fitness bands aren’t practical from a business point of view

For prominent brands, investing in fitness bands seems impractical. Moreover, designing budget-friendly alternatives for niche wearable startups like Oura and Whoop proves financially unviable. Such companies hinge on cutting-edge, science-driven offerings, and relying solely on hardware sales falls short of sustaining server operations, financing essential research, or navigating the FDA clearance procedure. Consequently, this is why you observe a rising trend in premium smartwatch alternatives being bundled with costly monthly subscriptions.

Forrester provided insights from their 2023 consumer benchmark survey, indicating that 32 percent of tech-savvy adults opt for smartwatches, contrasting the 19 percent who choose fitness trackers. Additionally, a 2023 IDC report highlights that bands merely constitute 6.4 percent of the market. The fitness band market share is projected to decline to 4.8 percent by 2027. Conversely, the report forecasts smartwatches to increase from 31.2 percent of the market to 32.8 percent during the same period.

Is there any scope left for fitness bands?

Judging by recent product introductions, the resurgence of fitness bands as a dominant force seems unlikely. Nonetheless, there remains a demand for screenless wearables. However, these newer options represent a departure from the traditional ones you may be familiar with. Most of the screenless wearables available today are either highly specialized in wellness tracking or come with a hefty price tag, sometimes both.

While the Oura Ring is a notable smart ring, it’s not the sole player in this field. Many are actively developing alternatives due to the advantages it offers: less distraction, enhanced comfort, and discreetness compared to smartwatches. Notable examples include Movano’s Evie Ring, currently pursuing FDA clearance as a medical device, and Ultrahuman’s smart ring. Happy Health is working on a mood-tracking smart ring for mental health assessment, while Samsung has filed a patent for its own smart ring. Despite the growing interest in this form factor, smart rings still have significant advancements ahead.

Ultimately, smart rings and other screenless fitness trackers face the same challenge as fitness bands: the versatile capabilities of a smartwatch. Any alternative must offer a compelling value proposition, providing a significant reason for consumers to invest the same amount while offering fewer features.

Vishal Kawadkar
About author

With over 8 years of experience in tech journalism, Vishal is someone with an innate passion for exploring and delivering fresh takes. Embracing curiosity and innovation, he strives to provide an informed and unique outlook on the ever-evolving world of technology.