Persistent Purpose – The Missing Magic Sauce in Wearable Tech

My love affair with wearable tech over the last decade looked something like this:

First device – Garmin Forerunner 405 (circa 2008) – I just really wanted to know how far/fast I run while I’m running so that I can follow training plans more accurately and achieve better results (and not give up during a run prematurely). It did the job perfectly and was my only piece of wearable tech for years >>>

Jawbone UP comes out – I can measure steps AND sleep!? Holy guacamole!! I assumed it meant that from now on I will have a good night’s sleep every night for the rest of my life >>>

MUST. HAVE. MORE. DATA. Went through fire to get my Basis watch. I mean, skin temperature, heart rate (and no chest straps!), perspiration…. total datagasm!! YES PLEASE! >>>

basis watch

Enter the Lumo Back,  Tinke and etc.

And then I started getting overwhelmed. All this data coming through – on sleep, steps, temperature, heart rate etc EVERY DAY – I felt immense pressure to be doing something with it. Constant inner nagging “I should really take a look and analyse and find things to improve”. It became another thing on the to-do list that I never got to. And then there was the pressure to keep collecting the data – ensuring the devices always have sufficient battery left, remembering to put them on in the morning, etc – you don’t want to have a patchy data set for when you actually get to look through it at some undefined point in the future. I also enrolled into the mappiness project and quickly realised this whole thing was stressing me out.

So I quit!

Like this:

Basis on eBay. Lumo Back on eBay. Tinke on eBay. Jawbone into the drawer (I liked the idle alert & the vibrating alarm – both actionable, until you learn to ignore them).

The problem with a lot of these devices is that while they do have a purpose initially – of making you aware of what the status quo really is – that purpose is usually fully served within the first few weeks of usage. You quickly get a good idea of how long you actually sleep for and how many steps you clock up in a day and approximately how many steps you make in an hour and it all becomes pretty meaningless thereafter. So the value of using the device each additional day becomes less and less.

I had a longish break from wearables until Moov (my full review here) caught my attention. It’s just as useful on day 50 as it was on day 1 because it tells me precisely what to do next to keep pushing myself (well, except for their swimming app where they kinda fell down).

I now also have a QardioArm which is a smart blood pressure monitor – I use it a few times a week to check in with my blood pressure and see if I still get a “green”. No stress about keeping up with “always on” tracking and that little green dot gives me peace of mind. It’s also an example of a device that gives you data on something you cannot predict yourself – so while I can more or less guess steps/sleep duration, I have no way of self-detecting blood pressure.

I also pre-ordered a Cue which is a testing device to measure inflammation, testosterone, vitamin D, influenza and fertility. I’ll be focusing mainly on inflammation – again no stress about “always on” but (hopefully) peace of mind every now and then and insight into something I can’t self-detect.

So next time you’re eyeing a new piece of wearable/health tech ask yourself – is it going to be persistently delivering value to me past the first couple of weeks? Is it going to persistently provide me with knowledge which extends beyond what I already know? Chances are that if you’re not sleeping well you already know this (and anyone who has to put up with you does too :) and if you already know this and don’t take actions to fix it, an app showing you a nice chart isn’t going to magically change anything. Likewise, I know it takes me around 1.5h of walking to clock up 10,000 steps and on any given day I can more or less tell how active I’ve been – the added value of knowing the precise number is really minimal.

The kind of tech I’ll personally be keeping an eye for is tech that actively coaches me in real time to improve at some relevant sport or something that has the potential to pick up on changes in my health.

With that in mind, what’s your next wearable/health tech device going to be?


  1. Yas says


    I finally got around to reading last week’s article. I’m not into wearable accessories, neither to satisfy others or myself as the junk out there hasn’t piqued my interest… Until someone makes a star trek communicator badge work.

    The new technologies coming out have gone in two directions. Either a piece of hardware that tries to do all the functions in one device (which becomes overwhelming and under utilised by most consumers), or something that only really does one function really well (most which are never used again past it’s initial gimmick hype as you alluded to in your article). So, in this world of self-gratifying-instant-everything-now with advanced marketing to make you believe you need something, what thought process is required to ensure that we get the best experience? Be truthful to yourself about what you would use it for, and if time spend on it actually increases the enjoyment of your life incrementally over the long term, otherwise it will be an expensive toy.

    Could you live without technology?

    Looking forward to the next article tomorrow!

    • Sweat&Fuel says

      Your question “what thought process is required to ensure that we get the best experience”. I think you should start with a very clear goal in mind and an action plan. Contrary to popular expectations, the devices don’t do the dirty work for you. They just help you track/evaluate progress. This is useful not because most people can’t estimate how much they moved but because most people don’t try to.
      Could I live without technology? I certainly could. But it would be a lot harder for me to push myself further in terms of physical training. Knowing exactly how far you’ve run/cycled/swam in real time makes it easier to add on an extra km/lap when you’re out there. Right now I’m swimming without a real time tracker and I find that none of my swims last more than 720m and each time I stop because I think I’ve swum more than that. If I had a real time tracker I could certainly squeeze in a few extra laps and actually progress :) It worked like that for me with running and my good ol’ Garmin Forerunner…

  2. says

    Dang, that’s some way to quit.

    I should probably look into getting one of these wearables myself. I used to track my runs on Nike Plus back in the day, but I just got lazy/bored of the whole thing.

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