Heart Rate Tracking: Why Fitbit Won’t Win

If you're one of the 19 million people who track steps, heart-rate or nutrition with a wearable fitness device, you've built up an impressively sizable chunk of activity data.

So, now what do you do?

From collecting exercise data to manually logging calories, millions of users globally are dumping billions of data points into the cloud.

All these numbers beg a question: What device companies are truly empowering people to use this data-driven mindfulness toward making positive changes in their lives?

Fitbit Heart Rate Not AccurateFor coaches and trainers in the 78 billion dollar global health and fitness market, how will they now utilize this new technology to change the old habits of their clients?

The answers to realistic, accountable, and effective lifestyle change can found through identifying behavioral patterns, but in order to see accurate patterns, you first must have access to all the data where the patterns live.

This is where Fitbit and many others in the digital health movement are falling drastically short.

The State of the Union In Digital Health

Clean data equals big dollars.

It doesn't take a computer scientist to figure out that whoever holds the data of millions has the power to dominate in the digital age.

In context of data, located at the intersection of reciprocal value exchange and morality, the golden key that will open millions of new customer's doors is essentially delivering a trusted solution to their pain.

Sparking the digital health movement, Fitbit was among the first responders to answer the looming pain-point of global obesity with a unique fitness tracker.

They found the pain and created a solution.

Since it's start in 2007, Fitbit has spearheaded multiple digital health tools that have inspired others to build a bigger toolbox.

“Don't find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” – Seth Godin

Do the recent efforts and spending habits of Fitbit, Jawbone, Under Armour and others mean we're on the path to progress?

Advances in technology have made sensors more accurate and hardware much smaller; numerous companies in this space have done an amazing job of marketing these features to justify claims of a “complete tracking solution.”

Some smart phone apps (and wearable companions) are even marketing themselves as virtual personal trainers.

In reality, when it comes to delivering a comprehensive, seamless, and accountable digital health ecosystem, what the end-user has been delivered so far is a clean-looking BandAid on an open wound.

The Quick & Dirty

From meetings with Technogym at IHRSA, I walked away with a clear understanding of the present gaps in the fitness technology ecosystem:

  • Accessibility: Most APIs don't share 100% of the OEM's data. This yields inaccurate pattern recognition for ineffective lifestyle modification.
  • Accuracy: Runner up is the gap in accuracy of heart rate sensors; whether a radial pulse should be from the wrist, forearm or chest.
  • Ownership: Lastly, you don't actually own your data, the OEMs do. See our post on data ownership here.

For digital health coaches to be able to drive a succinct behavior change methodology utilizing a digital health ecosystem, a customizable SMS notifications tab must be present on the administrator dashboard.

Wellness Technology www.wellnessforce.comWhether you are a coach or solo, the end-user's steps, activity, heart rate, nutrition and other goals must have numeral parameters established for a real-time and two-way communication to actually exist.

The impact of these actionable changes extracted from data ultimately occurs when the right message (at the right time) is automatically pushed to a coach/client at the time of deviation.

I've spoken with the top 10 thought leaders in the fitness industry about this system over the past month.

It doesn't exist yet.

Paradigm shift: Global fitness & digital health companies must combine talents in order to evolve into digital health coaching.

Heart Rate Accuracy

As activity trackers become tertiary, the future of health quantification will quickly shift towards accurate heart rate monitoring & testing with HRV.

For the best in heart rate tracking accuracy as of March 2015, I recommend the Scosche Rhythm+ forearm device.

In a sample A/B test using the Fitbit SURGE and Scosche Rythym+, I found a 6 BPM deviance for MAX HR, and a 10 BPM deviance in AVG HR.

Interestingly enough, with the Digifit app connected to Fitbit in “Partner Setup” and exercise session activated on my SURGE, both readings in the Fitbit dashboard (see screenshots under “Digifit Cardio” and “Stairclimber”) were noted to be matching at a 121bpm average.

Yet when I go into the Digifit workout data, it reports a 131 AVG BPM and a 158 MAX HR.

For accuracy, the Rhythm+ is a clear winner for those looking into more granular data to drive athletic performance.


Heart Rate DataHeart Rate DataHeart Rate DataHeart Rate Data

Real People Need Real Solutions

Will Fitbit be the winner in the race to build the ultimate, seamless, and easy-to-use digital health ecosystem?

Right now, no. They're keeping the data to themselves.

A true victory in the digital health transformation will ultimately come from an organization willing to take the ultimate risk.

Share all the data.

When a transparent, open-minded, and courageous technology company empowers coaches and end-users with the ability to access 100% of their accurate data in a single dashboard, we all win.

I believe radical changes from digital health devices in personal health will soon be commonplace.

On the road to the eventual promised land, what we need now is a new paradigm of devices and software that will truly empower people's lives.

Anywhere, anytime.


About Josh Trent

Josh Trent lives in Austin, Texas with his love Carrie Michelle, son Novah, daughter Nayah + a cat named Cleo. He is the host of the Wellness + Wisdom Podcast and the creator of the BREATHE: Breath + Wellness Program. Josh has spent the past 20+ years as a trainer, researcher + facilitator discovering the physical and emotional intelligence for humans to thrive in our modern world. Helping humans LIBERATE their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual + financial self through podcasts, programs + global community that believe in optimizing our potential to live life well.

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3 Responses

  1. Great insight Josh! It is an interesting landscape right now… I look forward to reading more from you as the year progresses…

  2. Thanks Jon! I’m excited to see what happens as we look at the Apple watch’s impact.

  3. Now we just have to see how the new Misfit tracker stacks up to the market. For heart rate, I just can’t think of any wrist based device that is accurate!

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