Every step you take – smartphone step-trackers [TUPdate]

Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, March 24, 2017

Baby steps count, as long as they’re in the right direction.  Digital health promises positive outcomes for a wide range of people. However, like gym memberships and home treadmills, they don’t do much unless people use them. A first step for many is to use what’s handy. Most smartphones can track a user’s steps, and many are being used for that purpose, although use isn’t as widespread as fitness trackers or smartwatches.

Phone home or walk home?

Using one’s smartphone to track steps is a regular activity for 25 million, or 1 in 9, US adults. There are other ways to track one’s health. Electronics activity trackers, such as the Fitbit, are being actively used by 39.6 million, or 18% of US adults.

Also, smartwatches are in active use by 36 million adults or 17% of all U.S. connected adults.

Plans to buy a fitness tracker

The strongest plans to purchase fitness trackers are among adults who are already actively counting their steps. One-sixth (16%) of adults who are currently tracking their steps using a smartphone are planning to buy a fitness tracker in the next 12 months. Fitness tracker purchase plans are much smaller among smartphone users who aren’t already using them to track their steps. Purchase plans are even smaller among adults who do not currently use a smartphone.

Active usage and plans to buy a fitness tracker – age-related (in part)

The highest usage rates for electronic activity trackers is among older millennials, age 28-35, with nearly one-third (32%) actively using one. The shouldering cohorts have lower user rates that are identical with each other – 20%. Each older age group has a lower usage rate.

The pattern is different for tracking steps using a smartphone. Younger adults, especially younger millennials, have the highest usage rates. Nearly one-in-five (19%) of younger millennials (age 18-27) use a smartphone to track their steps. Slightly fewer (15%) of older millennials (age 28-35) do, and even fewer (11%) of GenX (age 36-51) do.
Purchase plans follow a similar pattern of being age-related, with younger adults having stronger plans than older adults.

There are many reasons for the difference in age interest between fitness trackers and smartphones. One factor is the persistent wobbliness between BOB and SAK in tech. BOB means Best of Breed, which includes focused-function devices or services which focus on being the best in their class for a narrow set of capabilities. SAK refers to the Swiss Army Knife approach, integrating a broad range of adequate capabilities into a device or service. Over the last three decades of tech research, our research shows a constantly shifting balance between the adoption of BOB versus SAK, and for all kinds of technology products and services.

Separate wearables dedicated to fitness have the charm of being stylish accessories, of more appeal to younger adults. Also, any adults more athletic than their older counterparts will value the accuracy of dedicated fitness tracker, whether that additional accuracy is actual or perceived. Cost is a factor to some extent, as these younger adults don’t have the financial means of the next-older age cohort. Younger millennials have the highest unemployment rates (10%), student rates (30%), and part-time employment rates (19%) of any of the age cohorts. Their full-time employment rate (29%) is nearly half that of older millennials (56%).

Looking ahead

Fitness Trackers and smartwatches, although both wearables are not exactly in the same category. Fitness tracker makers would argue they are more accurate and complete, tracking health measurements beyond steps such as pulse rates, lower cost, or with a design that’s more clearly oriented towards fitness. Purchase plans are similar, though, with 6% of U.S. connected adults planning to buy a fitness tracker in the coming 12 months, and 7% planning to buy a smartwatch. What’s interesting is that the majority of those planning to acquire either type of device are employed full-time or part-time.

Perhaps some savvy marketers will join forces with employers oriented towards supporting their employee’s health and support the many with healthy intentions. Whether supported or not, we expect digital health to reach further into the lives of connected adults, as an increasing number of devices offer metrics that matter.

About this TUPdate

These results are based on the most-recent results of the MetaFacts TUP/Technology User Profile 2016 survey, its 34th wave, with 7,334 respondents (US).

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