Wearable device and activity monitors – the next boom in tech

| 17 July 2013

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Personal health technology is one industry that has moved at an astonishing pace in the tech world over the last three years.

One just needs to look at how popular the health and fitness categories are in both the Apple and Android app stores. There are thousands of apps that help and encourage users to keep fit and stay healthy.

It is expected that by 2016, the mobile app market will reach $400 million. Body monitors, health devices, and apps will be used by over 300 million people.

A new report from Juniper Research suggests that almost 70 million smart wearable devices will be sold in 2017. This includes smart glasses, health and fitness devices, along with enterprise wearables. That’s quite a jump when you consider that 15 million units are expected to be sold in 2013.

This market segment is expected to exceed $6 billion by 2017, with activity monitors accounting for 65% of that pie.

High performance athletes started this revolution when the first heart rate monitors where introduced in the early 80s. But these devices had limited functionality.

This changed with the advent of smartphones and the ability to share the information wirelessly through an app, as well as sophisticated sensors embedded into these devices.

Nike were one the early pioneers in this market with the Fuel Band, and the Nike+ Sensor, which goes into your shoe and tracks your running activity via an app, and shares the data on Facebook with friends.

Newer devices have become more sophisticated, allowing users to not only monitor their activities, but also to integrate deeper with other apps.

One company that is creating exciting products in this new sector is Fitbit. In the last ten days I’ve been using two of their gadgets, and surprisingly I have found myself becoming more active and trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.

The Fitbit Flex wristband fits neatly and comfortably around your wrist, it is waterproof and monitors your activity 24/7. Technology can be intimidating, but this was so easy to set up. Simply download the free Fitbit app onto your smartphone (Apple or Android), register your name, and enter your weight, height, sex, and age. Within seconds your device is syncing your data to your app on your smartphone. You set your goal weight and the app will encourage you to reach that over time by setting daily goals for you.

Remember the old pedometers that measured how many steps you took every day? Well the Fitbit Flex is a pedometer on steroids. It tracks your steps and distance, and encourages you to reach your daily target. You can also keep track of what you eat, and the app measures this against the calories you burnt. It is able to distinguish between regular steps and walking up stairs, which is more vigorous and burns more calories.

To give you an example of the encouragement: this week instead of using my work lift to travel from the basement up to the second floor, I’ve been using the stairs. I now have got into the habit of using the stairs because I get more exercise.

One of my favourite features is the sleep monitoring. Simply press a button when you’re in bed and let it know once you’ve woken up. It will then analyse your sleeping pattern, telling you how much quality sleep you’ve had as well as restless and interrupted sleep like getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It even has a vibrate function so that you can set your alarm to wake you up with gentle vibration, instead of a ringtone from your phone that will likely wake up your partner as well.

The Fitbit integrates the data you use from a host of other apps into your profile. For example, you can log your runs with Endomondo, or your food via an app called Foodzy. Fitbit takes all that data and integrates it into your profile. You can even register your device on Discovery and get 150 Vitality points every day for reaching your 10 000 step target!

I’ve been combining my activities with the Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale. It looks like a regular scale, but it does so much more. It has clever built in technology so that when you stand barefoot on the scale, it sends a special pulse from your one foot through your body to the other foot and it then gives you valuable information about your health. It tells you what you weigh, plus it gives you your body fat percentage and BMI. It then sends the information to the Fitbit app wirelessly via your home Wi-Fi network and measures this against your activity, displaying the information neatly on the app.

There are a range of different Fitbit devices that start from R899 up to R1 299 for the Flex. The Aria Wi-Fi smart scale retails for R1 999.

The technology is one thing, but combining it with human psychology is what takes this whole health thing to another level. It gives the user the motivation to be more active and lead a healthier lifestyle. Interestingly, research that Fitbit conducted found that their users on average took 43% more steps using Fitbit devices.

A recent United Nations report showed that Mexico surpassed the USA as the most obese nation in the world. Is there a correlation in the slowdown of obesity rates in the US and a healthier lifestyle? It’s too soon to tell if these apps and devices are encouraging healthier lifestyles, but the latest research coming out of the US, shows that Americans are exercising more than in the last decade.

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