You can’t deny the popularity of the Fitbit. It has raced onto the scene and become a brand and device that is used as a shorthand term for this whole sector of wearable fitness technology, much the same way as iPad is used as a catch all term for tablet computers and ‘Hoover’ for vacuum cleaners.
The devices have very quickly become an important accessory for the health and fitness conscious.
But when it comes to this sector – and not just the Fitbit branded products – can we be confident that the device on our wrist is accurately monitoring our heart rate, breathing, steps and sleep patterns?
Many people will want to use the data these devices give us to inform their whole routine, helping them to understand everything from what exercises they need to do at the gym or how much sports supplements from the likes of Fysiqal that they’ll need to top up their food and drink consumption. If you’re going to use it properly then you need to be able to rely on it.
The ‘jury is out’ as key court case looms
It’s fair to say that this last point has been contested. While journalists and reviewers have road tested devices and had their say, a formal legal challenge has now been lodged.
In this class action, in the USA, three people are suing the company, claiming Fitbit’s heart rate monitor does not work. They have conducted a study which they say proves the level of inaccuracy to be up to 20 beats a minute off.
It’s worth pointing out that Fitbit has strongly opposed the study, saying that it is flawed and does not prove the argument against them.
The result of the case will be important for the San Francisco tech firm as it attempts to pour water on any suggestion of poor performance of its products before they become too damaging.
Further tests show it’s far from clear cut
The study carried out on behalf of the plaintiffs is not the only one to analyse the performance of Fitbit’s devices.
As the New York Times reported, another study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise put the spotlight on the step and calorie count functions of the Jawbone and Fitbit.
Both were found to perform well until physical activity intensified, at which point inaccuracies crept in. Tellingly, though, this was also the case with the lab equipment used.
Alex Montoye, an assistant professor of clinical exercise physiology at Ball State University, said: “In general, these activity monitors worked as well as our research-grade monitors. The Fitbit and Jawbone monitors worked about as well as the best we can do as far as measuring physical activity.”
The tests will, undoubtedly continue. Fitbit and its rivals must fight hard to remove any stain caused by the doubts raised so far. In the meantime, users would be well to take a common sense approach. If you use one device regularly then the data you get will work in a comparative sense – so 10,000 steps one day and 5,000 the next will prove you’ve been half as active. That way you can rely on your device to play an important part in your routine. The lesson it simple. Don’t be a slave to technology, let it enhance your life instead.
Disclosure: This is in collaborative with Bethany Taylor