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The future of digital fitness for well-being and engagement

Nike FuelBand The digital fitness sector is growing. The market for apps is expected to grow 10 times from  $2.4 billion in 2013 to £26 billion by 2017 and this is just the start. All the major manufacturers of hardware and software such as Intel and Apple and some of the major social media platforms like Facebook are furiously working away to get ahead in rise of the business of digital fitness or ‘mHealth’.

But why is this business so lucrative and what does the future hold? With the massive explosion of smartphones and apps, people are not only becoming more connected, but also, more conscious about their own health and well-being. This is coupled with the growth of people using social media to connect with each other locally and globally.

The future lies beyond the screen as we connect ourselves to devices such as fitness wristbands and the Internet of things. In the future however, we may not need or indeed want a wristband, armband or any other type of cumbersome add on. The watch market is not what it used to be. Smart clothing containing sensors already exists. Ralph Lauren tested a fitness tracking shirt at the US Open and Google Fabric is creating new possibilities for interactivity. In the future, clothing and other smart objects will surpass the current smartphones and wristbands that we use, making us less dependant on wristbands and screens.

beacons-yogaInstead of wearing a wristband or using a phone to simply measure how far you ran, how much you slept and your heart rate, the smart sensors and next generation of apps will become your personal coach. With smarter algorithms, better sensors and more intelligent software – your app will get to know you. The data captured from you and your surroundings will enable better insights than any personal trainer and the psychology of the interaction will motivate you and adapt more than ever. Your digital personal trainer will know when you need to work harder or not, taking into account millions of variables from your muscles, heart, sweat, hydration, sleep, location and time to name just a few.

Smartphones are already tracking your fitness data and this may be valuable to you, but there is a bigger picture. For example – social networks or search engines will be able to tell so much more about you from your fitness data than simply who your friends are, what you search for and the data you share. Combining your fitness data with other data opens up a myriad of possibilities for you and for the companies that provide the social networks, search engines and hardware that you use.

fitness-appIn the future, people will worry less about sharing this data real-time and comparing data will be as acceptable as sharing your social media updates. Maybe nobody cares that you ran 10k today, but the mass capture and sharing of this data on top of the regular online interactions will lead to much more exciting possibilities and better connections.

This will also be true of top sporting teams and celebrities. The top teams are using player fitness data privately to gain a competitive advantage and clubs and players are using social media to engage with fans. In the future, sports teams at all levels will benefit from the combination of this data for insight and engagement. The benefits of increased, open data capturing and sharing will ultimately outweigh any privacy or competition concerns.

Rather than simply following Tweets from Cristiano Ronaldo in the future, you will be able to see in real-time how he is performing on and off the pitch. The worlds leading sports teams will demand open access to this data, because it will engage people globally and this will outweigh the secrecy. When social media burst on to the scene for sports teams, it was also disruptive. In the future, we will look back and think that 37 million people following social media updates of a footballer was just scratching the surface.

The future of digital fitness is about moving away from the screen and wristbands. It is about using the data for better well-being, insight, stories, personalisation and engagement. It is also about becoming healthier, fixing problems before they occur and to become more comfortable with the sharing of that data when it makes sense to do so. I’m looking forward to it.

Here at Salford Business School, we are working on various digital health related projects, please drop me a line if you are interested to find out more or get involved.

Alex Fenton

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