The Fitness Tech Explosion
With the holidays in the rear view mirror, many who did too much indulging have begun to notice a bulge that they may want to lose in the new year. It is easy to make and subsequently break new year's resolutions -- but the convergence of technology and fitness could help make it easier to keep them.
The consumer electronics industry has begun to embrace the fitness trend. At the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas, an expanded amount of floor space was devoted to fitness tech.
The wearable device market, in particular, has been expanding as fast as some waistlines. It is expected to reach 90 million shipments in 2017, according to data from ABI Research.
"By 2016, the mobile [health] application market is expected to reach US$400 million, and the expected number of body monitors that will be worn is 300 million, so this is starting to become a major topic of discussion," said Julie Sylvester, coproducer of Living in Digital Times.
"That is up about 40 percent from the predictions that we were seeing two years ago," Sylvester told TechNewsWorld. "People love gadgets, and routine [workouts] can be boring."
Tracking to Motivate
The theory behind the health tech appeal is that users can more readily track their efforts in real time. Users have long been able to wear specialty devices such as heart rate monitors, but now many of these devices have added connectivity with smartphones and websites where they can share their progress.
Until the widespread adoption of the smartphone, there simply wasn't one device that allowed this level of interaction.
"The smartphone has been huge in becoming the hub of fitness technology," said Kevin Tillmann, senior research analyst at the Consumer Electronics Association, producer of the International CES.
"Not only can consumers use apps as fitness-tracking programs, but we are also seeing the smartphone as the display and primary interface for syncing devices like the Nike FuelBand, for example," he said.
"This is allowing devices relying on sensors to become more affordable by using the display that over half of all consumers already own and continue to buy at a torrid pace," Tillmann told TechNewsWorld.
This connectivity could be a way to keep those who might normally fall off the fitness wagon coming back for more.
"It's not only the tracking that is keeping people motivated, but the community support most of these trackers have created," said Living in Digital Times' Sylvester. "Whether it is a reward or point systems, donations to charities, or just the visual 'atta girl,' they all make people want to try harder to be fit."
For the consumer electronics industry, which as a whole has seen consolidation with a still somewhat stagnant economy, the fitness market could also be a way for manufacturers to break out and get fit.
"Pricing for these technologies may play a small factor in the ability for fitness devices to be more profitable for manufacturers," said CEA's Tillman.
Fitness technology is also seeing convergence with other sectors of the CE space, including video games -- an area that was once as far from fitness as it could get.
"In the past two years, we've seen fitness gaming nearly double in terms of usage," Tillman stressed. "By making fitness more of a competitive game, you give consumers a compelling reason to exercise more often over time. They begin to think about exercising as getting to the 'next level' in real life by reshaping their bodies."
Fitness technology is also crossing other sectors.
"We may see some convergence of fitness devices as the major players create more 'Swiss Army Knife' products over the next few years in the fitness space," added Tillman. "The key is to create interfaces that make the data manageable and simple for consumers to use in decision-making. As we've seen in our research, consumers primarily use just one or two fitness apps because they don't want to spread the information across too many channels."
Too Much Information
Of course, the biggest threat to fitness technology is still the fact that users need to remain motivated to return and work out. In some cases all the information, tracking and monitoring could be just one part of the overall downsizing.
Too much information can allow people to see the burning of calories -- but until that translates into how users see themselves in the mirror, that real-time data just might not be enough.
Disillusionment can spring from a number of mistakes, including misinterpreting the data or tracking the wrong things.
"This happens in research, so it can most certainly happen to an individual using the latest fitness gadget," said Dillon Martin, triathlon coach and professional fitness trainer.
"With a seemingly infinite number of things to track, you can end up focused on the wrong metrics," he pointed out. "For instance, using a stroke counter, you may become focused on decreasing the number of strokes it takes to swim a lap -- but this doesn't necessarily lead to the most efficient swim stroke."
Despite those concerns, Martin does believe the future of fitness -- as well as fitness training at all levels -- lies in what technology has to offer.
"Immediate feedback helps us know that we are progressing even when we may not feel much difference," Martin told TechNewsWorld.
It can also help users make corrections in areas where they might be lacking, he added.
"You might be a great runner when it comes to distance, but you may need to work on your foot speed," said Martin. "These training tools allow coaches to monitor and track your progress using empirical data. Goals and results must be measurable, and our training devices give us a way to do just that."