Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Despite their flaws, affordable wearables gain steam in India

  • If you take your fitness ultra seriously, you will have to move to more accurate equipment
  • Fitness-based wearables are finding favour with users in India who want to get in shape and make walking and running a part of their everyday lifestyle

NEW DELHI : Despite his hectic work schedule, 33-year-old Noida-based software engineer Rahul Kumar walks 10-15km daily. His Xiaomi Mi Band HRX helps him keep track of the number of steps and then distance covered. It also sends out inactivity reminders if he has been sitting in a place for an hour, effectively becoming his fitness companion.

Fitness-based wearables are finding favour with users in India who want to get in shape and make walking and running a part of their everyday lifestyle.

According to research firm IDC, India shipped 3 million wearables in Q2 of 2019. Of these, ear-worn wearables, which include wireless earphones that can track health and fitness, accounted for 55.9% of the market, while the share of wristbands was 35%.

Some wearable companies such as GOQii have clubbed wrist bands with subscription-based services that includes assistance from doctors, nutritionists and coaches in addition to offering performance-based health insurance from Max Bupa which rewards users who stick to their fitness regime.

Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO of GOQii, points out that because GOQii is an integrated system, and people are paying for the fitness tracker and subscription services, they are more serious about fitness.

Fitness bands can push people to take their fitness regimen more seriously, according to Bharat Agarwal, consultant of internal medicine at Apollo Hospitals. However, he added that users need to be educated about the information that they are gathering about themselves. “Misinterpretation can lead to unnecessary anxiety as everything that can be counted need not count and vice versa. Calibration and accurate results are of prime importance as certain health-related decisions could be based on these," says Agarwal

He has a point. Bands that also keep a tab on your heart rate, blood pressure and can give ECG readings are more likely to draw flak for being inaccurate. A lot depends on the hardware that powers these wearables. For instance, most of these entry-level wearables use a three-axis accelerometer to detect body movement in every direction and a gyroscope to measure orientation and rotation.

They, then, use algorithms to translate the raw data in to meaningful statistics. Each vendor in the wearable segment use different algorithms to crunch the captured data, which is why the results vary from one band to another.

For the more advanced tracking like heart and blood pressure monitoring, bands like Smartron t-band has got two light sensors at base and one metal sensor atop. The light sensors use photoplethysmography (PPG) electrodes to measure pulse wave transit time, while the metal sensor uses electrodes to take ECG readings.

Medically-approved ECG devices use up to 10 sensors placed at multiple points on the body to take readings. Despite their limitations and concerns over accuracy, fitness bands have proved to be immensely useful for the masses who are not willing to splurge on the more expensive options such as the Apple Watch Series 5, which starts at 39,900.

In comparison, the likes of Mi Band 4 and GOQii cost around 2,000 and are capable of taking care of basic fitness tracking requirements of users. These basic fitness bands also serve as initiation devices for users who may be sceptical about them, but are willing to try them out without burning a hole in their pocket.

Over time when they are convinced that these devices can make a big impact on their fitness and overall health, they may even move to the more expensive and dependable options like an Apple Watch or Garmin.

A case in point is Bodhisattwa Dasgupta, a Delhi-based sales and business executive, who was earlier using a Fitbit Charge and later on moved on to Garmin Forerunner 15 followed by Forerunner 35, for the multiple runner centric features. Dasgupta points out that when he started running actively, Fitbit’s functions started to feel limited. With Forerunner 35, he is able to constantly keep tab on my pace, mileage, lap time, heart rate, and run intervals. “The moment you want to take your fitness to the next level and your target is to be as fit as possible so at the age of 40 you can run a marathon or an ultra, then you have to move to wearables like the Forerunner."

While fitness bands like Mi Band 4, Fitbit Charge or the Garmin Forerunner 35 are coming in handy for people trying to achieve their specific fitness-related goals, the more expensive options like Apple Watch 4 and 5 have been credited for saving lives with features like fall detection and by helping users detect heart condition like atrial fibrillation.

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