Amazon Halo failure proves fitness trackers are in trouble
For a big tech brand that caters to shareholders, any product that fails to make an immediate impact and grab a huge market share is a “failure” worth killing without mercy. By these criteria, the Amazon Halo brand of fitness trackers was doomed.
Skip the infamous ever-listening band Halo and Halo View, a Fitbit lookalike. Amazon has a reputation for being cheap, and its loyal customers have brushed off privacy concerns for years. Future Halos could have iterated and improved on their flimsy, janky origin.
You can’t ignore the fact that Amazon has joined an incredibly crowded health and fitness market, years behind more established brands. But Amazon could have built its reputation over time, and market analysts like IDC (opens in a new tab) note that smaller fitness brands sold over 200 million pieces of clothing in 2022, or around 40% of the market.
If Amazon wasn’t laying off 28,000 workers to appease Wall Street, Amazon Halo had room to grow – especially given Amazon’s reputation for, um“borrow” ideas (opens in a new tab) from competing products. Instead, he permanently shut down Halo.
The real issue in my mind is that no one – not even big brands like Fitbit and Xiaomi – knows what a fitness tracker looks like anymore. And many customers are moving away from the inexpensive fitness bands that Amazon would have specialized in.
People are buying expensive watches – smart or dumb – over cheap fitness bands
There’s no denying that Apple has gained an insane hold on the wearables market since 2020. In light of that, it’s no surprise that more people are buying smartwatches than fitness trackers these days.
Looking at wearables sales in 2022 compared to 2020, the percentage of smartwatch sales fell from 33% to 47%, while fitness trackers fell from 50% to 18% in the together (i.e. 39% less than in 2021). At the same time, basic unconnected sales are up (from 17% to 36%).
iPhone owners may wear the Apple Watch to receive notifications, but also because they see it as a stylish status symbol. That’s why so many other fitness trackers from Fitbit, Amazfit and others have emulated the circle design over the years.
But outside of the fanatical Apple crowd, it seems people have gone back to retro watches because style is more important to them than anything a fitness band with a design mimicking, second-tier user interface and a few health sensors can bring to the table.
Should a fitness tracker be cheap or not?
Today, you can get some pretty amazing benefits from a sub-$100 tracker like the Xiaomi Mi Band 7 or Amazfit Band 7, which makes it hard to compete with a subscription-based tracker like Amazon Halo View.
Yes, these cheap trackers are probably selling your location and health data to advertisers to subsidize the low cost. But the people who buy them ignore privacy concerns, either out of apathy or because one private data leak after another has made consumers feel there’s little they can do to protect themselves.
A subscription like Amazon Halo or Fitbit Premium is meant to be a way for discerning consumers to pay for holistic health reports and workout routines with the added promise that the data won’t be shared with anyone.
But rational or not, many people don’t trust Amazon or Google with their personal information, regardless of their promises to protect it. They would rather risk a small company selling their aggregated data than a large company linking their health data to information gathered from their smart speakers or smartphones.
Plus, not everyone wants to pay monthly just to know you have unhealthy stress levels, poor sleep, and irregular heartbeats. Especially because wrist health data can only give you a rough idea of your health and is not always reliable in a crisis.
So does that mean people only want cheap fitness trackers with less advanced health data? Not necessarily! They were making devices five or six generations ago, but these companies now have to find new features to add to popular, inexpensive wearables every year to stay relevant. So these tiny trackers are packed with new technology that a tiny touchscreen can barely fit.
How have fitness brands solved the problem? By selling “pseudo smartwatches” like the Fitbit Charge 5 and Xiaomi Smart Band 7 Pro with larger screens, adding room for more swipeable menus and readable text. But it also made the new smart bands less svelte and more expensive than ever.
By bringing fitness trackers closer to real smartwatches, companies have only accentuated how inferior fitness trackers are to real smartwatches that cost a bit more and have bigger buttons and screens to make them more usable.
But anything more basic like Amazon Halo Band or Whoop 4.0, designed to be worn and forgotten for health tracking, looks bad because other comparable trackers give you “smarter” features! It’s a catch-22 for anyone trying to succeed in this market.
Daily workouts and AI coaching are the future of fitness trackers
An Amazon Halo post-mortem from The Verge (opens in a new tab) explained what the Halo team had planned for the device if Amazon hadn’t turned it off. They would continue to give Halo Views to Planet Fitness gym members, then expand Amazon Halo Digital with 20 new weekly guided workouts and “an advanced AI-powered fitness trainer,” all of which would be available on Apple Watch as well as their own. material.
Frankly, the Halo AI trainer (codenamed “Donna”) looks like another example of Amazon’s ambitions to do something new that’s likely to scare consumers away rather than excite them. He reportedly used “computer vision” to count reps and analyze your form during a workout.
In theory, traditional training sessions would be more like a VR or Kinect-like gamified experience with direct at-home feedback for improvement. In practice, The Verge noted, “even Amazon’s own employees have expressed pause over having a camera analyze them and share data with Amazon during workout routines.”
Before you poke fun at Amazon too much, keep in mind that Bloomberg (opens in a new tab) reported that Apple plans to integrate AI and Apple Watch data into a health coaching subscription called Quartz, and companies like Amazfit are using AI to recommend workouts right now through Zepp Coach .
As one former Amazon Halo employee put it, they “closely tracked competitors’ sales on Amazon to make product decisions.” Amazon’s fitness tracker failures aren’t just theirs; they are indicative of what is to come for other brands. And if AI is the next step in improving fitness trackers, then we’re in trouble.
For better or worse, companies are trying to outdo each other by making their fitness trackers “smarter” than ever, while offering a rival to Apple Fitness+ in terms of professional coaching or celebrity endorsements. It’s the only way to add more value to trackers without adding new sensors or GPS gimmicks that will make them as big as smartwatches.
But in this economic climate, that kind of investment may or may not pay off fast enough before impatient board members get tired of spending money to make money on subscriptions and unplug.
Ignoring Apple and niche brands like Garmin that have enough loyalty to sell watches over $400, most fitness brands have the same shedding strategy as Amazon, prolonging the cost of a fitness band” cheap” well beyond the actual sale date. But so many people (myself included) are exhausted by the sheer number of subscriptions these days, from streaming TV and music to home security and, yes, fitness.
So while the best fitness trackers are, in some ways, better than they’ve ever been, they may have already hit their plateau with no room for growth without becoming too feature-rich for their size or too expensive or catastrophic. gloom for many customers.
According to The Verge, Amazon has 500,000 Halo View and Rise devices in a warehouse, waiting to become e-waste. We’ll have to wait and see if other popular fitness brands come up against shareholders and share this fate.