Fitness Tracker: Tech Flash

 In emerging tech, Tech Flash

Fitness Tracker: The Technology

For this addition of Tech Flash, let’s take a look at the fitness tracker. These have become popular items in our society today, but today we are looking to see if the trend will last. Let’s get moving.

Fitness Tracker: A History

Some decade ago, fitness became trendy again with the proliferation of electronic pedometers. The history of these devices dates back to the late 1700s, with the original electronic devices being introduced in the mid-1980s. Though not new, there seemed to be a recent surge in awareness from corporate America that the fitness of their employees mattered.

Fitness Tracker: People Walking StairsOf course this was mostly for selfish reasons. Ala, healthy employees equals better output. Thus, many offered electronic pedometers with incentive programs to “get your steps in”. While these programs were beneficial, eventually something else began to happen.

  1. Companies grew tired of handing out free benefits for straightforward exercise
  2. Other industries popped up to take the pedometers to a new level with electronic wearables

Enter the age of the fitness tracker. Companies such as Garmin, Fitbit, and Nike, began introducing a new breed of fitness tracker. Where 3-axis technology clocked steps before, you now have sensors actively monitoring your pulse and heart rate, among other things. This has led to an explosion in the market.

Fitness Tracker: Why it stays

A few different benefits give the fitness tracker staying power. The main factor is health awareness. According to a Gallup survey in 2014, nearly half of U.S. citizens are concerned about their weight. In a similar timeframe, Organic food sales were up nearly 8.4% YoY from 2015 to 2016 according to OTA.Fitness Tracker: Woman ready to run

What do statistics like this tell us? The average American has health in their mind. Naturally, there is a correlation between good health and some level of exercise. The fitness tracker now provides so many key features around monitoring your health which coincides nicely with this trend. A Fitbit Charge 2, for example, tracks exercise, heart rate, and caloric intake, if you so choose. The Nike+ FuelBand SE even measures the intensity of each step or motion you take, providing more granular insight on your day to day movements. As long as these health concern trends continue, the fitness trackers’ primary feature of health monitoring will be in demand.

Another key feature of some of these fitness trackers is the ability to monitor sleep patterns. While maybe not overtly obvious, quality sleep has a profound impact on mental and physical health. The ability to monitor the heart rate to determine what phase of sleep you are in is now commercially available. Sleep pattern data has been collected before by clinical scientific studies. However, this is the first widespread use of sleep pattern monitoring by the masses. Folks can use this trend data to measure whether they get enough sleep or even to determine if something may be wrong (heart or sleep apnea triggers, etc). Sleep deprivation can cause depression and weight gain, amongst other ailments. Thus, such data may prove critical in overall health evaluations.

 



Fitness Tracker: Why it fades

The fitness tracker is up against some stiff competition. Trackers are geared towards fitness and health evaluation, by definition. However, Apple or Google can be far more vertically integrated with their devices, for example.

Basic functions, like texting back, can and will be challenged by tradtional fitness trackers. Features such as voice activation with a Google or Apple assistant are unparalleled though. The digital assistant will only gain traction over time and will already be immersed in your day to day activities. You may use the assistant to order a meal for pickup post workout or to provide feedback on what you bench pressed Monday. The possibilities are endless in this space and traditional trackers will not be able to match this integration with their standalone platforms.

This breed of smart watches, i.e. a fitness tracker and media interface in one, will likely be more attractive because they can serve multiple purposes. If a consumer is to spend roughly the same amount of money but get more features, the fitness tracker will lose ground quickly. For instance, most fitness trackers’ can provide notifications. However, I’m visualizing the smart watch of the future will be able to respond to an urgent call in real time. The ‘assistants’ are being developed currently to have the ability to dial 911 for instance upon voice command. Other abilities such as the ability to answer a text message or look up the calories of that protein shake you’re about to consume are instantaneous on these watches. The fitness tracker of the future may find a way to feature these things but it already exists in the smart watches today.

In short, replicating the features of a fitness tracker is far easier to do than creating the infrastructure of a vertically integrated smart watch. Therefore, companies like Garmin or Fitbit truly have a rough road ahead.

Fitness Tracker: Key Takeaways

The fitness tracker clearly has valuable features for a health driven society. From step counting to sleep monitoring, these devices are raising the bar on fitness awareness. Personally, I’ve found the Fitbit Charge 2 quite useful. It can motivate with step reminders each other. The data it collects and displays about my health has at least kept me engaged on a daily basis.

However, competition in this space is heavy. In the world of smart watches and other wearables, fitness tracking is merely one of many features. For example, think about how the iPod became obsolete because of the smartphone, which incorporated the music playing ability. These smart watches integrate more than just fitness with a broader view of your lifestyle.

Over time, I expect the market to gravitate to the wholesale solution. As such, the fitness tracker may be more of a niche movement and over time will lack staying power as a stand alone market. So for the short term, it can be useful and will serve those simply using it for fitness. But overall, thumbs down on this trend lasting with fully integrated wearables rising to the top in the long run.

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