Tech To Watch 2012: Fitness Gadget Explosion

Fitness Tech

Your excuses for not getting in shape are dwindling fast, thanks to a new breed of fitness gadgets. Devices from Fitbit, Jawbone, Motorola and others are designed to leverage the power of mobile computing, the cloud, and social networking to get couch potatoes off their duffs and keep them motivated.

Other devices in this red-hot category include the Bodymedia FIT System, Nike + iPod Sport kit, and Adidas miCoach.

Why It’s Important

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a disturbing one third of U.S. adults are obese. Just as troubling is that 79 million Americans 20 years and older have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes; a staggering 35 percent of the public. The prevalence of this illness can be prevented through a sensible regimen of diet and exercise, which is precisely what these smart fitness products promise to help people do.

When asked why Motorola decided to enter the fitness space, a company representative told us, “Getting out there and doing exercise is something we encourage and having the technology background that we have, we thought hey, we can help out. We can provide smart solutions that are fun and simple to use.”

Gearing Up

Priced at $99.95, the Fitbit Ultra follows up the original Fitbit—an elegantly designed pedometer that tracks all your steps using its built-in accelerometer. On the first-generation device, users could sync results to the company’s website for detailed analysis, compare their activity with other Fitbit owners, and see if they met their daily exercise goals.

The Fitbit Ultra offers the same features, but adds a stair-tracking feature, stopwatch, and clock. Also new is iOS app support to log workouts and meals, plus track your overall progress. For motivation, the Fitbit Ultra rewards software badges, à la Foursquare, to encourage more activity.

Motorola’s Motoactv packs even more advanced features in a wearable device. At $249, this watch is more akin to a smartphone thanks to the built-in GPS sensor and what Motorola calls AccuSense, which measures your performance. Also on board is a music player that monitors which songs were playing during your best workout, and a Bluetooth radio for connecting to other fitness peripherals, such as heart rate monitors.

Motoactv works in tandem with a companion Android app and the Motoactv website to let you dive into your performance stats. Even better, the watch syncs data with the cloud whenever you’re in range of your home Wi-Fi network.

Jawbone, which has up until now focused on Bluetooth headsets, has branched out to another type of wearable gadget with the Jawbone Up. This $99 wristband was designed to work in tandem with an iOS app to track everything from steps walked to calories burned, and it will even vibrate when you’ve been sedentary for too long.

Unfortunately, Jawbone had to cease production on the Up due to a wide range of issues, including the inability to hold a charge and syncing problems. The company says it will be making the product available for sale again soon.

How It Will Change Your Life

For many, going to the gym isn’t the most enjoyable activity, and it’s often hard to track progress. Intelligent fitness changes the equation by providing feedback in real time. These devices also seek to tap into human nature by forcing users to set goals and offering rewards.

Social support also plays a big role with these devices. On Fitbit.com, for example, you can share your progress with public groups or create private groups to set collaborative or competitive goals.

“The ability to upload and share activity data can bring a level of community sharing and competitiveness to what are often solitary activities,” said Jonathan Collins, principle analyst for ABI Research. The Jawbone Up offers similar community features.

Outlook

Collins estimates that nearly 10 million fitness gadgets shipped in the U.S. last year. “Year-on-year growth from 2011 to 2012 in the U.S. could be nearly 50 percent,” he said. Compatible Bluetooth technology in most smartphones and tablets—plus the health industry moving toward greater patient involvement and preventive care—will also help smart fitness tech gain traction.

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