Tag Archives: fitness

Fitness trackers could be this year’s gift everyone gets but doesn’t use

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It has wrists, but does it it have legs?

The fitness tracker category is going to huge this holiday season. It’s hard to go to a meeting without seeing a Fitbit or a similar bracelet on the trendiest wrists in the room.

Most people seem to use the devices for step counting, to reassure themselves that their normal daily activity is an adequate workout. It’s useful feedback, and a lot of people seem to be altering their routine to maximise steps. Some companies have incorporated fitness trackers into corporate wellness programs, and that’s positive too. When a product becomes ubiquitous, it also becomes a default gift for the hard-to-buy-for.

The real question is whether this is a typical fitness fad, like office treadmills or boot camp workouts, or if it represents a long term change in fitness awareness and proactive health management.

At this stage, it appears to be the latter. From my personal – and not statistically valid – observations, actual usage has a half life of two or three months at best. A fitness tracker might appear on someone’s wrist, but it’s gone within a few weeks or months. Any fashionable workout routine, however benign, loses its novelty value and simply becomes another chore.

There’s one technological improvement that could change the equation, though, and that’s longer battery life. If the tracker is something you have to remove periodically to recharge, then the odds are high that sooner or later you’ll just leave behind for good one day. On the other hand, if you can put it on your wrist and forget about it for two or three years, like a wristwatch, then the case for long term adoption and usage will be a lot better.

Fitness for Christmas is a mobile game

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Old school only gets you so far.

About half of the annual sales of consumer electronics products will come between now and the end of the year, so manufacturers are feverishly trying to get their new products in front of consumers. Fitness applications, particularly ones built around smart phones, are getting an increasing amount of attention as the holiday selling season builds.

There’s no question that mobile phones are part of the standard kit for athletes (although hopefully not during races). Someone doing a workout can listen to music, track progress and speed, do real time analysis of heart rate, stride length and/or power output, and look at a map all at once. And take phone calls, check emails and get a weather report. All with one easy to carry device.

Mobile fitness apps are very much tied to the sensors available on a device. GPS, accelerometers, gyros, thermometers and cameras included. Although the iPhone and iOS are more restrictive in terms of accessing hardware functions, it is a very consistent development environment, including interfaces for connecting peripheral sensors – a watt meter, say, or a heart rate monitor or the output from a piece of gym equipment – and downloading the data to a computer or the cloud.

Android is more open, but also more heterogeneous, so developers have to solve more problems and users will have a less seamless experience. Both platforms have Bluetooth, for example, but data transfer protocols – uploading external sensor data or downloading it all to a computer or the cloud – depend to a certain extent on hardware, and Apple’s vertically integrated approach makes it more reliable.

“Just works” is the key, and that’s easier to achieve on the iPhone. Most athletes don’t want to fiddle with the electronics. That gives the Apple platform an edge in the mass market. On the other hand, there’s more latitude to develop something genuinely innovative (and cheaper) on the Android platform.

Apple has a lead in the holiday sales race, but Samsung and other Android device makers are likely to have a better kick on the final lap.