Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

3 minute read


Can A Fitness Tracker Disguised As A Swiss Watch Solve The Problem Of Wearables?

How do you get consumers to stop abandoning wearables? Withings looks to the wrist watch for answers.

Can A Fitness Tracker Disguised As A Swiss Watch Solve The Problem Of Wearables?

Wearable health trackers, including the Nike FuelBand, the FitBit Flex, and Apple's upcoming iWatch, are de rigueur right now. But they've all got the same problem: More than a third of all people who buy one stop using it in six months. It's an abysmal drop-out rate that makes wearables seem less like the next big thing in consumer electronics than the 21st-century equivalent of a Pet Rock or a Chia Pet: dumb products that no one ever bought for themselves twice.

But Withings, a French consumer electronics company specializing in smart, connected health devices such as the WiFi Body Scale, thinks wearables are destined to be popular. As Withings sees it, we've already been sporting wearable technology—watches—on our wrists for hundreds of years, and try as it might, the smartphone has not been successful in killing off the wristwatch industry. Maybe the ideal smartwatch, then, is a lot more like the dumbwatch of yesteryear than tech companies want us to think.

Enter the Activité. Announced Monday, the Withings Activité resembles an analog watch. But while it may look old-school, the Activité packs some secret tech inside its churning horologic guts: a motion detector that can track your steps, exercise, calories burned, and other fitness metrics, and beam them to your smartphone over Bluetooth for analysis.

"The problem with most wearables right now is that they're not really wearables," Withings' CMO Julien De Préaumont tells Co.Design. He says that while the wearable market is crowded, customers tend to just stop wearing their fitness trackers for a host of reasons: because they have to be charged every day, or aren't waterproof, or don't blend in with your wardrobe. "The challenge is to create this emotional link that makes people love these wearable devices enough to fit them into their daily lives."

For the Activité, Withings decided to go in a different direction from most fitness trackers. It's basically a FitBit that's nestled, Matryoshka-like, inside a functioning Swiss watch. Designed in collaboration with French watch designers, the Activité has a band made of high-quality French leather from Tanneries Haas, one of France's oldest and most successful tanneries, as well as a crystal made of unscratchable Sapphire glass housed in a stainless steel watch case. Available in silver or black, it's a classy design that barely betrays to an outside observer the fact that it doesn't just track time, but motion as well. In fact, looking at it, the only hint that the Activité is also a fitness tracker is a smaller second hand, which indicates how much of your daily exercise goal you've reached.

But while the Activité's tracking abilities are externally subtle, they are very full featured. The Activité can connect over Bluetooth to Withings' iOS and Android Health Mate app, and convert the watch's tracked movements into such metrics as calories burned, steps taken, miles traveled, and so on. And because the Health Mate app also connects to other Withings products, including the WiFi Body Scale, Aura sleep system, and Pulse 02 heart rate monitor, the data you get from the Activité can also be compared to data about your weight, sleep schedule, and metabolism at large.

But perhaps the biggest advantage the Activité has over other fitness trackers is longevity. According to Withings, other fitness trackers need to be recharged every few days, but you won't even have to think about charging the Actitivité because it runs off standard button cell watch batteries. That gives the Activité a 12-month battery life, something closer to that of a standard watch rather than of a standard smart watch.

Slated for release this fall, the Activité does have an Achilles heel: its $390 asking price. But De Préaumont isn't worried. He says it's comparable to the price of a watch of similar quality, and the demographic Withings is looking to reach isn't the standard fitness tracker demographic anyway. At that end of the market, the competition isn't the likes of Nike, FitBit, Samsung, or even Apple—it's other Swiss watchmakers.