Wearables from Head to Toe: Are They Friend or Foe? An Empirical Landscaping of Health and Fitness Wearables and Apps in Six Countries to Identify Emerging Policy Challenges

23 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2022

See all articles by Anna Schneider

Anna Schneider

Hochschule Fresenius - University of Applied Sciences; Hochschule Fresenius - University of Applied Sciences

Rene Arnold

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd; Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd

Date Written: July 31, 2022


Research rationale:

Market for wearable devices and applications designed for personal health and fitness has significantly increased in recent years and this segment is expected to continue growing. Furthermore, the boundaries between this segment and the smartphone and smartwatch segments are blurring as more and more smart devices offer functions previously only associated with standalone wearables. This makes it increasingly difficult to understand the full scope of when and how people use corresponding functions. Thorough knowledge about usage patterns will become important as the sensors and apps used for health and fitness services increase the granularity of behavior tracking. The data generated by these services will give valuable insights into people's physical and mental health. Policymakers will also need to take a nuanced approach when handling these issues to preserve fair conduct and competition as the data collected will be intimate in nature, and the data's impact on the health and pharmaceutical industry could be huge.

Research objectives:

Our paper sets out to (1) define a scope for the variety of devices, apps, and functions currently used by consumers to monitor and affect their health or fitness status. We further seek to (2) shed light on the actual usage patterns of these devices, apps, and functions, as well as what specific combinations of devices and apps consumers rely upon. Finally, we will (3) collect data on consumers’ attitudes towards the helpfulness and accuracy of self-tracking, use cases for wearables, and the (potential) sharing of this collected data for medical diagnoses and treatment purposes.


To fulfill these research objectives, we conducted representative online surveys relying on a stratified sampling approach in six countries (China, France, Germany, Italy, UK, and the US) featuring a sample of n>3,000 respondents in each country. A professional market research agency carried out the fieldwork and oversaw translation of the questionnaire into local languages. The fieldwork was carried out in late April 2022 and early May 2022.

Results and implications:

Our paper shows that: the omnipresent smartphone whose sensors can be accessed by various health and fitness apps remains the key platform for consumers when it comes to health and fitness; adoption rates for apps from within major digital ecosystems are similar to the ones we found for third-party apps; smartwatches constitute the second most relevant category of devices in the health and fitness space with substantial additional market potential; consumers are broadly open to using even niche and emerging wearables such as smart rings, skin patches, and PEMF headbands; both general and exercise specific tracking features are the most popular functions among consumers across age groups, while social and sharing functions do not resonate strongly with them; and that additional devices commonly also add a new (companion) app to the user portfolio of health and fitness apps. Based on these findings, we would expect a wider variety of apps to be used as the trend to consumer IoT unfolds. We have also found that consumers are positively inclined towards health and fitness technologies. Users of related devices and apps largely agree that these technologies help them achieve their exercise goals. They furthermore perceive the readings of their trackers to be accurate. However, we found more skeptical views when it comes to sharing the collected data with physicians or using collected data to detect illness early on. Our findings also underscore the importance of health and fitness technology for consumers and the likelihood of continued growth in this segment. So far, we did not find any indications of concerns related to digital ecosystem dominance. In fact, our results point instead to an increasing variety of apps being used as consumers adopt more devices. The low interest from respondents in sharing their records or collected data illustrates once more the value that consumers attach to self-determination when it comes to managing their online presence and the concern they have with keeping their data private.

Keywords: wearables, health and fitness, consumers, policy

JEL Classification: D12, L86

Suggested Citation

Schneider, Anna and Schneider, Anna and Arnold, Rene, Wearables from Head to Toe: Are They Friend or Foe? An Empirical Landscaping of Health and Fitness Wearables and Apps in Six Countries to Identify Emerging Policy Challenges (July 31, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4177215 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4177215

Anna Schneider (Contact Author)

Hochschule Fresenius - University of Applied Sciences ( email )

Im MediaPark 4c
Cologne, 50670

Hochschule Fresenius - University of Applied Sciences ( email )

Limburger Str. 2
Idstein, 65510

Rene Arnold

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd ( email )

Shenzhen, Guangdong

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd ( email )

Shenzhen, Guangdong

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