Armed with little more than a fitness tracker, an iPhone app and will power, I was able to lose 50 lbs in three months. I’ve even lost another 20 lbs since then, having gone from being one of more than 600 million obese adults to being in the best shape of my life. There’s no magic trick and there’s never going to be a single solution that works for everyone, but there is also little question that connected fitness devices and the apps that accompanies them have the potential to change lives. I know because they changed my life.
While dozens of companies have jumped into the fray in an effort to get a piece of this young market, one has already emerged as a clear leader in the space — and it hasn’t even been shipping its devices for a full month yet.
Under Armour has long been one of the most exciting brands in sports apparel, but last month it made an announcement that rocked the emerging wearables industry. The company unveiled a new line of connected devices that together form a comprehensive fitness solution unlike anything else on the market.
You can read some of my thoughts about them in my earlier article.
The news sent Fitbit shares tumbling to new lows thanks in no small part to Under Armour’s history. The young brand went up against an industry of giants when it launched in the late 1990s, and now it walks among them. Known for high-quality apparel and its growing roster of superstar athlete endorsements, Under Armour has reported revenue growth of 20% or better in the past 21 consecutive quarters.
Healthbox and the rest of Under Armour’s newly unveiled connected device lineup marks the next logical step in a game plan that began when UA started making key software acquisitions in late 2013. And as great as the company’s new hardware is, software is still the true beauty of Under Armour’s strategy.
With an arsenal of leading mobile fitness apps including MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal, the company is doing more than just helping consumers get in shape and helping athletes stay in shape. Under Armour is collecting data that couldn’t possibly be more valuable.
A person who has embraced Under Armour’s app ecosystem uses MyFitnessPal to keep track of nutrition from every meal and snack. Other apps like MapMyFitness, Endomondo and Under Armour’s new hub UA Record track workouts, daily activity and sleep.
Under Armour has more than 160 million combined registered users of its various apps, and the company can use the activity, workout, nutrition and sleep data they record to build products that are tailored exactly to their needs and wants.
UA knows what exercises its users do when they work out. It knows how long they exercise for and how often they work out. It knows how far they run and on what terrain. It knows how many steps they take each day. It knows what they eat and when they eat it.
Armed with all of this valuable data, Under Armour is able to build products that are fine tuned to address its customers’ needs. The company has an ongoing market research panel that is 160 million strong, and its participants aren’t even aware that they’re constantly contributing valuable feedback.
Every software company tries to make use of the data it collects to the best of its ability, but there isn’t a single company in the connected fitness industry that can make better use of this data than Under Armour. Not even Nike has a user base as large or as valuable as UA, and Nike is a far larger company that has been dabbling in connected fitness for years.
Under Armour’s Healthbox, its connected running shoes and its new wireless earphones are perfect examples of the value this data holds. These products were designed and built to address the exact needs of Under Armour customers. UA knows exactly what rival devices its customers use and exactly how its customers use them. Why? Because all of those Fitbits and Jawbone UPs and Wi-Fi enabled scales are connected to UA’s apps, feeding data into them constantly.
Armed with this data, Under Armour was able to partner with HTC and build devices that cover all of the bases as well or even better than similar products from the likes of Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone and Withings. Add to the equation the weight of the UA brand and its superstar athlete endorsements, and you have a recipe for success.
Of course, UA’s core apparel business benefits from this data as well. In fact, it has already been benefiting since Under Armour began acquiring popular app makers. UA has a very good idea of where to focus its R&D if it knows what types of exercises are popular among its users, for example.
Under Armour is a growth company and a powerful brand that is expanding into a market with huge potential. And it’s using a vast amount of valuable data to steer the ship. It all adds up to a winning strategy that is young but already proven — I have been testing UA’s connected fitness devices since December and despite being first-generation models, they’re already far better than anything else on the market.
Dollars and Sense is a recurring column by BGR Executive Editor Zach Epstein. It offers insights on subtle changes in and around consumer electronics with the potential to have a broad impact on companies that drive the industry. Contact the author at email@example.com.