Under Armour recently premiered a new fitness package called HealthBox, as part of a new chapter in the company’s Connected Health initiative. The package – whose gadgets are manufactured by smartphone maker HTC – includes a wi-if connected scale, sneakers (one shoe contains a little tracking pod), a heart rate chest strap, and a wristband activity tracker). The various gear contained in HealthBox all sync smoothly with Under Armour’s recent digital acquisitions, including MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal. From the reviews I’ve read, HealthBox packages various products already on the market – from the likes of Garmin, Withings, etc – and digitally strings them together into a slick ecosystem, albeit for a price.
What’s interesting about Under Armour’s expansion into connected health – beyond the fact that a sports apparel maker invested $700 million in various technology companies – is that they’re entering the very field of connected health and wearables that Nike abandoned last year, when it pulled the plug on its own FuelBand bracelet, and instead chose to work with Apple on integrating fitness apps into the Apple Watch. Under Armor’s fitness ecosystem is much broader – Apple makes many things, but it likely won’t make a dedicated heart rate monitor for runners – and so it has less riding on the success or failure of one particular device . Ultimately, Healthbox serves as the hardware component of Under Armour’s two-pronged – hardware and software – strategy.
On the software front, the acquisition of MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal have two sets of benefits for Under Armour: market research and dedicated ad platforms. The troves of data provided by the apps it acquired, will likely prove an incredibly useful tool. As MapMyFitness creator Robin Thurston mentions in an interview in Fast Company:
“For the first 20 years [of Under Armour history] it’s been about how athletes dress…Now we want to have this discussion about how athletes live.”
Under Armour exec Kevin Haley puts it directly in an Inc interview:
“You just know if a person swipes a credit card or not…We call something a basketball shirt, but is the guy wearing it to football practice? Is the boyfriend shirt he gives to his girlfriend something she wears as pajamas?”
It’s clear that Under Armour plans to use this data, somehow. I doubt that we’ll don sweat-sensing shirts that sync with your iPhone anytime soon, but the more data UA has about what people buy, and how they use it, the more targeted products – and advertisements – it can roll out.
Which brings me to the second benefit of Under Armour’s app purchases: it now has dedicated platform in which to display ads to users, both overtly and subtly.
I think that Under Armour’s two-pronged hardware and software strategy is a compelling one. Unlike Nike, it hasn’t bet the farm on hardware, but it is obviously putting out feelers – in this case, to runners – to sense whether or not its hardware offerings are worthy of consideration and consumer dollars. Should HealthBox succeed, it would serve as both a stream of revenue and a means of funneling more users into UA’s incredibly popular apps, and, they hope, into sweat-wicking exercise gear.