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Social gamification and wearable devices keep exercise interesting

By Owen Williams / November 8, 2013

Wearable technology has encouraged thousands of people to dust off their running shoes and hit the gym, and not just so they can show off their spiffy exercise bands. Fitness device manufacturers are tapping into psychological concepts like the quantified self and social gamification to help indivials force themselves and their inner circle to stick to New Year’s resolutions like never before.

Mobile motivation

The quantified self is a movement that incorporates technology into people’s lives by gathering data about their health practices and the conditions surrounding them. There are already a number of apps and devices on the market that monitor a person’s vital signs, household air quality or track their daily activity level, and there’s destined to be more.

By gaining this helpful information, a user can make calculated decisions about their body and the world around them. Devices such as the Fitbit ForceWithings Pulse and Nike+ FuelBand encourage individuals to move around more frequently by notifying them of their activity levels and helping them to set new goals. The Fitbit system sets benchmarks for step count, calories burned, flights climbed, active minutes and distance traveled each day. As the user begins to beat their goals on a regular basis, FitBit suggests they raise the bar bit.

Other goals can be added, such as water intake, calorie consumption and even how many hours of sleep you get each night. If you buy the optional Wi-Fi Aria smart scale, Fitbit also allows you to closely track your weight gain/loss over time. These combined aspects give the user a better understanding of how food, sleep, exercise and their environment affect their health.

A little healthy competition

As helpful as those health stats may be, it’s the social gamification aspect of wearable devices that really keeps people committed to their goals. Research shows that the best way to stay motivated in your fitness program is to work out with someone else. Thanks to wearables, you can workout with your entire social network.

The Fitbit successfully implemented this with their leaderboard, which ranks you and your friends by their weekly step count or calories burned. It also lets you cheer on (or taunt) each other in the process. This simple functionality makes the device much more effective as well as addictive; motivating the user to exercise for the sake of improving his or her ranking. However, there is a catch.

Despite the rising popularity of fitness bands as a whole, the splintered market makes it harder for friends to take full advantage of the social gamification aspect of mobile exercise. Until there’s some kind of cross-platform cooperation between the devices, users can only compete with people who own the same brand of fitness tracker.

The future of fitness devices

Wearable devices are beginning to gain traction with the smartphone community, which could open the floodgates to a huge revenue stream. Companies like Fitbit are planning to add even more social games and phone-related activities to future versions of their devices, which would further encourage people to become more active. At some point, they’ll be able to track activities like swimming, cycling or rowing.

But fitness bands aren’t the only devices in the exercise market. Apple’s recent adoption of a motion co-processor in the iPhone 5s allows it to track a user’s movement without draining the battery, making it a potentially dangerous competitor for wearables manufacturers. If Apple can prove the iPhone 5s is just as accurate and versatile as a fitness band, it will be hard to convince people they need to buy additional devices.

Regardless of which tracker you choose, the quantified self movement can help us understand more about our bodies and our daily activities, making us more aware of how to stay fit and healthy. Add some social gamification to the mix, and you’ll never have to worry about exercise interfering with your Facebooking or Tweeting again.

Read more about wearable technology in Mutual Mobile’s latest Trend Report.