From smartwatches to fitness bands, wearables are growing into a substantial market. But according to one report, not everyone is happy with how the tech is being used.
Today’s wearable tech can do some impressive things. They can monitor a heartbeat on an Apple Watch or track a daily jog on a Fitbit. But not all users are entirely satisfied with what they get out of these gadgets, according to a report from data company Argus Insights. In the report, “Examining the Wearables Ecosystem,” Argus has found that while consumers are happy with their wearable gadgets, many are markedly less satisfied with the apps found on them.
More than simply user-friendliness or convenience, Argus sought out to measure users’ “delight” in the wearables as well as the apps that accompany them. “You shouldn’t just satisfy your customers,” said John Feland, CEO of Argus Insights. “You have to delight them.” The company’s software produces sentiment algorithms from the raw text of user reviews. It accumulates data from retail websites worldwide as well as from Twitter.
Argus compiled more than 136,000 reviews of wearables and apps. “Companies have done a really good job of making the out-of-the-box experience work,” Feland said. “Over time, the apps become your main interface with the experience. And there are tremendous issues.”
The app gap
App stability ratings were lower than expected on both Android and Apple platforms, he added. A reason for this “app gap,” as the report coins it, is that despite the hardware doing a good job of recording data on a person’s body, the apps don’t interpret the data in a way that properly informs the user and suggests further action. For example, users may be told that they took 4,000-plus steps, but apps don’t indicate if that’s good for a particular body type or how many more steps per day they should be taking.
The report shows that users love apps devoted to fitness, calorie tracking and heart rate monitoring, but they have problems with how apps sync data, how much the apps crash and even app installation. This app gap is not limited to one device. It’s found in a variety of bands, including Microsoft, Garmin and Lumo.
Consumers consistently are more delighted by the wearable than the apps. People are not getting enough out of the software that has access to all that info about their body. Though there may be dissatisfaction with wearable apps, other market research firms are bullish on the growth of the wearables market. Global research company IDC forecasts that shipments will reach 110 million devices in 2016, a 38 percent growth rate over 2015. The company forecasts the market to grow to 237 million by 2020.
“Take a look at where the smartwatch is now. They are very much a first generation. You have to take them with warts and all,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager at IDC. The wearables market has only been around for a few years and has a limited number of apps. Compare that with the iPhone or Android phones that have been out for almost a decade, with each having developed more than 2 million apps. Developers have had more time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And as the delight numbers in the Argus report show, the specific problem isn’t the hardware.
“When you think about all the possibilities of what you can show the consumer, and then what they can do with that data, then narrow that down to a few good features, it becomes a real challenge for a lot of companies,” Feland said. “They haven’t necessarily built the design teams to make those decisions around what works and what doesn’t.”
A real design issue
Feland described app design as a challenge in user experience. “All the pieces are there; they are just not building them in the right space yet,” Feland said. “It’s truly a design issue.” Satisfaction with apps may improve when new kinds of interfaces become prevalent on smartwatches and fitness trackers, including voice-operated apps. “As applications become more robust and we are asking our watch to do more, do you think the average user will want to use all of his or her time poking, prodding, swiping in order to navigate around? I don’t think so,” said Llamas. “What if we can use voice instead?” Voice-operated apps have been growing in popularity with Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana, Digital assistants such as Siri have limited capabilities on wearables, but as those assistants and their vocal controls improve, and third-party apps gain access to them, voice interfaces could transform the user experience. “The good thing about apps is that you can release a new app every few months — you can do it every week, even,” Feland said. “So over time it becomes a real possibility to react and engage with consumers.
The future of wearable apps
Beyond interface redesigns, IDC predicts smartwatches will evolve, allowing applications to do more. Data collected about an individual, including health and fitness information and location, can be sent into the cloud from mobile apps and allow health care providers and insurance companies to access the data. One feature, only found on the Samsung Gear S and S2 that could vastly improve what apps can do is cellular connectivity. “I think cellular connectivity will really move the needle,” Llamas said. To make apps that can really work well with wearable devices, it all comes down to investment, according to Feland “All it takes is the investment to do it right, to understand what you need to be doing for customers,” he said.