How are fitness trackers like paper towels?

xiaomi_mi_band.jpg

Chinese upstart smartphone maker, Xiamoi, had a Jobsian "one last thing" moment yesterday, releasing their first wearable. Shockingly, it's a fitness band.

Another day, another fitness band. — Me

So what's different about this one? The price.

It's $13.

Sure, it does lots of wonderful things. It lasts 30 days on a charge, it can unlock your phone sans password, it's waterproof, it's a "sleep" tracker, and apparently it also measures physical activity.

It's also $13. Otherwise known as commodity-ville.

Tracker makers know that the days of big margins for wearables with low cost innards are quickly coming to an end. Everybody's seeking differentiation. Have you seen the new Tory Burch's new line for Fitbit? No, really.

Xiaomi is launching the first salvo in what I predict will be a broader charge of low-cost wearables. Commoditization is great for digital health. For the market to thrive, we need to move beyond niche markets — quantified selves, fitness buffs, slightly-less-offensive-than-gifting-a-gym-membership — and get broad-based population penetration. I predict that we'll see these things [on discount] lining the shelves at your local drugstore. Just like paper towels.

Commoditization has another benefit for digital health. It will redirect the market's focus where it should be: on the software. After all, the challenge isn't the [data] collecting, it's the changing. Tracker makers have done an excellent job in developing cool tools for gathering data, but they've been much less creative in designing software that reliably improves people's health. And it's the software that offers tracker makers the greatest opportunity for differentiation.

The days of buying $13 wearables on double coupon day are coming. And that's a good thing, as it just might force the market to begin leveraging strong science to create software that turns trackers into the health promotion tools that we've been waiting for.