Mobile apps and wearables have the potential to engage consumers in meaningful ways. However, long-term use requires solutions that deliver value every day.

 

My Jawbone UP 24 gave up the ghost during a recent family vacation. The device had become such a big part of my daily life over the past 2 years that I often forgot I had it on. During our vacation I took two of my daughters snorkeling for their first time. I was busy getting them ready so I didn’t notice I was still wearing it until I saw it out of my peripheral vision as I was reaching over to course-correct one of the girls about 50 feet offshore.

My UP came in contact with water a lot: hand washing, dish washing, car washing, and dog washing in addition to sweat-filled runs and workouts. I even thoroughly dunked it during several grueling water/mud/swim obstacles of a Spartan Sprint race last May (while finishing 13th in my age group, thank you very much) and it still operated. But salt water proved to be its undoing.

I was mad at myself for a few minutes. Then a little upset that I’d probably killed it. I did the standard wet electronic revival ritual to no avail. After a week, I gave up trying to resurrect it. And during that same week, I gave up caring about my UP band altogether.

Then I started wondering why I didn’t care anymore. The only thing I mourn is the fact that my husband will soon pass my 6 million step mark and become the Undisputed Step Champion of the Household, a title I have held–neither modestly nor quietly–from the first day we geared up two years ago.

The truth is, while I have done a lot of things to that my UP band was happy to record (“5 Day Streak. Way to Go!”), over time I started to realize that I wasn’t getting anything out of it other than the data.

For some, like the quantified selfers, the data is enough. For me it was interesting and relevant but had limited real-life usefulness. After a few weeks, I could predict, with great accuracy, exactly what my UP was going to record for that day. But other than to keep a half a million step advantage over my husband, why would I want to replace it? Since I couldn’t answer that question, I decided to figure out what’s missing from the experience that makes me reluctant to shell out $129–again– to replace it.

What is my UP missing?

Seamless connectivity

I linked up our Withings scale to track my weight, MyFitnessPal for food tracking (that lasted about a week; food tracking bites), and RunKeeper to more accurately track my mileage during runs. But I still found myself working hard to both find and then maintain those digital connections. Plus I like the variety of Beats music rather than my iTunes running playlist, so I have to have at least 2 apps open in order to really get into my workouts. True fitness fanatics and tech geeks have been jerry-rigging their favorite components together for a while now. Someone has got to take notice and start making things more seamless.

Apple’s Healthkit app is showing signs of that. And you don’t need a tracking device for it to do a good job of monitoring movement. Health has the potential to be the game-changer, but it’s not there yet. Under Armor, which just acquired  MapMyFitness, is another interesting player who’s starting to get it.

Experiences

I want someone to make more sense of the data I’m collecting. UP did a good job of showing my stats in comparison to other UPpers, telling me when I’d hit the top 25% or better of UP users each week. And they had some good insights, too, about how my sleep numbers compared to the average person of my gender and age. Interesting numbers, but its self-contained data related to the app. But what do these numbers mean outside of the device and accompanying app?

We’re at a point that workout and recovery assistance should be a natural experience in monitoring devices. This category needs to evolve beyond just gathering data points.

The next generation of wearable devices should focus on building meaningful experiences with the available technologies and form factors. It will no longer be enough to design a device with cool attributes and a slick app. The winners will do the best job building connections between their devices to the goals and aspirations of people trying to become their best self.

This is another reason that the Under Armor acquisition of MapMyFitness is so intriguing. Finally there’s a retail player whose brand consumers admire with dollars to invest and the ability to sponsor experiences, challenges, and events that make tracking fitness simpler and more engaging.

Rewards

A badge for getting to 6 million steps was a nice thing to see in my UP app feed. If that were paired with, say, a coupon from Under Armor or Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Trader Joe’s, for discounts on running clothes, shoes, or healthy food, that would be even more interesting — and appropriate. Tying fitness goals, which we can now track and verify, with tangible rewards is the most obvious next step in the evolution of wearable devices.

RunKeeper once in a while hands out coupon rewards for hitting certain goals. The last one I got was for 75 cents off a carton of liquid egg whites and a free 60 day trial of Rhapsody, neither of which I had ever heard of or particularly wanted.

Granted, I’m on the free version of RunKeeper, and there is a cost associated with desirable rewards. If I knew that hitting 500,000 steps a year would get me discounts on workout gear or 50% off a nice pair of running shoes, I’d consider it a good ROI for the cost of a premium membership. Especially if I got regular discount offers and coupons for food, restaurants, and other activities that might interest me.

Personalization

Users are starting to expect certain levels of personalization. It wouldn’t take much effort to find out more about me to tailor both challenges and offers specific to my preferences and goals. Netflix, for example, asks me to rate movies I’ve seen. They have a preferences section that allows me to customize my account. They also know the movies I have watched and suggest complementary films and genres. Developing algorithms for pairing people with challenges, rewards and offers is another way devices can be more relevant to me.

Changes are coming, there is no doubt. The number of wearable devices is increasing dramatically. Mergers and acquisitions by complementary and competing players are making news. And open platform development is allowing more seamless connectivity across a host of devices.

I’m going to sit on the sidelines until the next big breakthrough happens, though. I don’t think I’ll have long to wait. So for now, I say farewell to my Jawbone UP. You hardly knew me. I’d say I’ll see you again someday, but you’ll probably be replaced by something better. Thanks for the memories.