by Jeremy Hutton -- April 15, 2014

When the activity monitoring movement took off in 2013, I jumped right on the proverbial treadmill, excited to begin tracking and optimizing my movement. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. After about a month of researching which activity tracker to get (Nike Fuel, Fitbit Flex, JawBone, et al.), I committed to the Fitbit.

The product worked well, and the online reporting component revolutionized the way I thought about workouts, activity and movement on a day-to-day basis. Now equipped with ongoing readouts of my steps, calories, sleep and activities, I was ready to take my personal fitness to a new level. That is, until the product malfunctioned.

I first heard about the Fitbit Force recall from a co-worker. Then, as I strategized with my growing circle of activity-tracking friends about the problem, I realized that my biggest concern wasn’t the refund process or even the dreaded rash, but rather the potential gaping hole of data that would ensue if I would be required to mail in the product before a replacement could be sent—a lag time in data that could take weeks. If my device were to malfunction, would I lose all that valuable data?

As luck (or statistics) would have it, my own fitness monitor malfunctioned later the following week. As a consumer, I went ahead and purchased another tracking device to stave off the ominous data hole while I waited for a refund. To me the risk of data loss was worth coughing up additional money for an interim product.

Unless FitBit is the exception, this doesn’t bode well for companies developing wearable tech. Wearable tech seamlessly captures data that’s embedded into our daily lives and provides users with a context that helps us make better decisions. In my opinion, data like this needs to be seen as more of a utility, not a product; a resource much like electricity. Can you imagine going six weeks without electricity?

As I grow more accustomed to using personal data to make informed decisions on a daily basis -- whether how much to exercise, what groceries to buy, or what outfit to wear -- this data becomes a necessity that requires uninterrupted uptime.  

Wearable tech manufacturers and retailers would be smart to take a few notes from utility businesses, as well as online Software as a Service (SaaS) tools. Those established sectors learned valuable lessons over the years that could save the activity tracker industry a variety of growing pains. Once they realize they’re not just selling a piece of flashy merchandise, but a tool that harvests a valuable resource (data), they’ll prioritize uninterrupted access to data as a utility. And the most successful companies will be those who couple wearable tech with the same priority servicing expected from power companies.