Is it a problem that people quit their wearables?

Is it a problem that people quit theirThere’s a robust body of data that shows that people who use a wearable device like a FitBit or a Jawbone UP band tend to stop using it by about six months or so. Naturally, people who work in digital health and believe in the value of tracking freak out about this stat. It’s easy to take it as a sign of failure–if the wearable were really helping people, wouldn’t they want to use it forever?

Yes–a good wearable is forever

One perspective on discontinuing wearable use says that if it were really helping people, they’d never stop using it. The examples used in this argument seem more geared toward people with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, who likely have some constant monitoring needs. A healthy person may not need to track steps once she’s reached her goal weight, but a diabetic will always need to track blood sugar.

As wearable devices become consumer commodities, some people are using them longer. There is a coolness factor that didn’t used to exist for wearables; other people are doing it too. The sleek design of popular wearables like the Fitbit or the Jawbone UP doesn’t hurt, either.  If wearable designers can make the devices into something that people like to wear as a fashion statement or to compete with friends, more power to them.

No–a wearable for every stage of life

I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing if people stop wearing their device after a period of time.  A wearable might have been purchased for a specific purpose and no longer be needed once the purpose is achieved. I’ve used pedometers or activity trackers before for about six months at a time; they help me calibrate my activity levels, but then gradually stop offering me meaningful information. So I stop using them until I have another reason to start again.

It seems like I’m not alone in this. I recently spoke on a panel with Margaret McKenna, who leads Data and Analytics at Runkeeper, and she pointed out that many Runkeeper users use the app intermittently. Her team can use data to identify users who take vacations from the app but will return on their own.

I’ve argued before that the holy grail is not designing the single wearable or app that a person uses forever, but curating a library of options so that people have strong choices to fit whatever their current needs might be. I think success for wearable manufacturers looks like an ecosystem of different apps and devices that can be mixed and matched based on a person’s goals, interests, and health issues.

What do you think? Is it an issue if people stop using a wearable or app after a few months?