As detailed in the post, Wearable Workouts: So many darts being thrown, will any hit the bullseye?, I discuss how I believe the completely wearable fitness tracking solution will come from a smart clothing device. With multiple sensors on the body tracking every heartbeat, step, and most importantly, range of motion and muscle twitch; the possibilities are endless for a comprehensive activity tracking and athletic coaching tool. Two companies, in particular, Hexoskin and Athos, have come up with intelligently designed smart apparel products to track activity and health. Hexoskin is breaking into the professional athlete, space research, and health research markets by creating a scientifically accurate smart shirt to precisely measure heart rate, breathing, stress, fatigue, activity, and sleep. This highly advanced biometric tracking technology has been adopted by several sports organizations to optimize training for their athletes. According to Hexoskin, potential future applications include cardiology, sleep medicine, aging at home, work medicine, defense applications, and space exploration missions. Athos alternatively is focused on the consumer fitness area. Athos smart apparel is highly advanced compared to alternative wearables currently in the market. This smart clothing technology measures heart rate, breathing, and EMG, which measures muscle activity. This comprehensive tracker allows each athlete to measure exercise form, muscle exertion, muscle utilization, balance, and heart rate. In my mind, this product has the potential to become a game changer in consumer fitness. Instead of making assumptions of using the correct form in an effort to reach a fitness level, these sensors will allow you to get a true measurement of the quality of your workout and utilization of muscle. If you are not pulling the bar low enough on a bench press, you will see this because the program will show your muscle utilization. If you are using more strength on your left bicep than the right while curling, this tool will point that out too. This is not a gimmick or a toy, this product has the potential to create something we have lacked for decades; the ability to ensure our workouts bring results without excuses or false entitlement. If you take breaks, lack intensity, or use poor form, the results will show. For the first time, you have something to hold you accountable for your workouts when self-training.
At first glance, smart clothing technology looks like the no brainer solution to bring fitness and health accountability we have been longing for decades. However, implementing this technology does have its challenges. The first challenge, which the entire smart clothing industry is experiencing, is validating the high costs of smart apparel. According to Cath Rogan at Smart Garment People during the Wearable Technology Show, customers find it absurd to pay several hundred dollars for a workout shirt or a pair of shorts, and typically close the door on shelling out the dough to adopt this technology. Cath believes smart clothing companies will need to find an effective way to market smart clothing as a technology service, rather than a cool piece of apparel. She thinks that due to high costs, smart clothing will need to be subsidized, much like a smartphone. Customers are also leary of how long smart apparel will last after going through several wash and dry cycles. This is something we will not truly know for a few years, which will certainly scare away early adopters. I think one potential solution to both of these issues is to sell these smart products as a service, for a subscription fee. This will reduce the exorbitant upfront costs, and can give the customers a potential replacement once the apparel starts wearing down and losing effectiveness. I believe this solution will increase confidence in the consumer, and mask the upfront hit. This model, however, should still have an upfront cost for the apparel, then a small subscription fee to continue the use of the service. This solution can lower the intimidating upfront costs, and will allow the company to market this as a service instead of a toy.
Another challenge I believe smart fitness apparel companies will face as they expand their market is ensuring the integrity of the product and the fitness results it provides. It will be difficult to monitor all athletic and sporting activity and treat each activity as equal in terms of fitness comparison and tracking. Remember, that the target customer base is working millennials who also achieve their fitness goals by playing team sports. It’s nice that the tracker will track my muscles used and coach technique for weight training and running, but what about the effectiveness of my pickup basketball game or my tennis match? Can this technology accurately compare the benefits of my softball game or my snowboarding trip against my runs and swims? These alternate forms of exercise are ones people use as fitness, and would need to be measured on a level playing field with the more conventional workout methods in order to produce true comprehensive fitness tracker. Including team sports monitoring will also open up opportunities for people to track the quality of their jump shot, serve, or snowboard 360.
All in all, I strongly believe that companies like Hexoskin and Athos are driving fitness tracking devices in the right direction. Their products are built around a customer need, and for the first time in the history of fitness, will actually hold people accountable for their effort, form, and consistency during self-paced workouts by only displaying cold hard results. That I believe will be a huge breakthrough in fitness. The upcoming challenge that will need to be solved is how to break through the box of having to perform particular activities to obtain meaningful results, and allow the tracker to quietly follow your footsteps while gathering accurate data. To take it one step further, if one of these fitness tracking systems can find a way to use a number of sensors to enable the service to serve as a virtual coach for athletes around the world; bullseye. I understand that this would be entirely too much for one company to handle, but this is where we start thinking about my favorite topic, of course, strategic partnerships!