Even before Apple announced their Apple Watch, much of the tech world was looking to wearables to be the next big thing. Everyone is looking to established technology companies, but there’s someone coming in from outside the tech world positioning themselves to dominate, especially with their latest acquisitions: Under Armour.
Before we get into my theory on Under Armour, let’s talk about wearables for a second. There are really two main types of wearable technology: the fitness/quantified self kind, and the “I need an extension of my smartphone” kind. There is significant overlap, but I think where Under Armour is targeting is in the quantified self area. Every company wants in on helping people track their health and fitness. Apple has HealthKit, Google has Google Fit, and Microsoft has Microsoft Health. This is an attractive area because the more people get hooked on tracking their fitness, especially with specific hubs that aggregate everything for them, the more likely they are to stick with those platforms. Think of your health as being similar to an app portfolio or your music library; once you’ve amassed a critical amount of data/apps/music, you don’t want to bother to convert and switch it all. Plus all that data about everyone’s health habits is extraordinarily valuable, and allows all sorts of companies and advertisers to best target their audience.
So that brings us to Under Armour. They’re not even a 20-year-old company, yet they’ve already established themselves as a strong competitor in the field of athletic clothing and footwear, ranking behind Nike as the #2 fitness brand in the United States. I’ll admit, I don’t have a ton of UA gear, but I do have an Under Armour baseball hat, and it’s my all-time favorite hat. I wear it for everything from working out to around the house, and it is light years ahead of any Nike hat I’ve had. They are ambitious, they move quickly, and they are currently targeting the quantified fitness world with their acquisition of My Fitness Pal and Endomondo. They already bought the Map My Fitness portfolio last year, so they’ve now aggregated three huge fitness platforms and user bases under one roof. According to CNBC, the combined base tops 131 million registered users. That’s a lot of users, and even if a good portion are people who registered and stopped using the service, there’s still plenty of active users available. And now Under Armour is the owner and gatekeeper of all that data and all those dedicated fitness consumers.
Apple, Google and Microsoft should be sweating right now. Under Armour has said they’re happy to let other hardware tap into their ecosystem, and I know that Map My Fitness offers a great deal of cross-app data sharing already. But if Under Armour’s hub is everyone’s central spot, that leaves Healthkit, Google Fit, and Microsoft Health at a disadvantage. MapMyFitness, Endomondo, and MyFitnessPal are heavyweights in the mobile fitness world already. People like and use those apps, and Under Armour has a strong brand on the clothing side as well. It’s not going to be easy to lure customers away from their established apps, with new money, support, and possibly discounts and other clothing perks behind them from Under Armour. They’re starting already with Under Armour Record, a site to aggregate all your MapMyFitness data (and I am sure My Fitness Pal integration is coming very soon). A cross-platform, multi-app system using existing and popular apps is already a better bet than one from scratch, no matter whose brand is at the top. And if Under Armour ever changes their mind and rolls out a wearable of their own to go with their portfolio, well, Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit and the others are going to be in serious trouble!