CES 2016: Battle of the (Fitness) Bands

In the not-so-distant future, your jewelry will know more about your body than your doctor.

The global wearables market is expected to reach a value of $19 billion in 2018, more than ten times its value five years prior according to a recent report from Statista. Not surprisingly, over 50 Fitness and Technology brands showcased their wares at CES 2016.

At CES 2016, a myriad of brands jumped on the fitness wearable bandwagon - launching new and/or updated offerings. Casio announced its first smartwatch this year in the form of the WSD-F10. Huawei revealed two new watches for ladies called Jewel and Elegant and Fitbit launched Blaze. Samsung revealed two new models of its Gear S2 Classic smartwatch and Under Armour has created the UA HealthBox, a collection of three devices, all of which allow consumers to monitor and track their activity, sleep, fitness and nutrition.

Trackers That Keep You on Track



For advertisers, the key benefit of fitness gadgets lies not in the hardware but in the application of the collected data – a fact not lost on Fitbit. The company recently acquired mobile exercise app FitStar, which designs personalized workout programs based on a user’s manually inputted body details paired with activity data. This marks a shift for the company – from simply logging data to leveraging it to create a customized user experience irrevocably changing the brand/consumer paradigm. User data reveals not only an individual’s activity interests, but how that user is progressing or not, presenting an opportunity for marketers to reengage product owners and motivate users to remain committed to their fitness.

Calorie Counters Remain Elusive

All this has fueled the need for more complete and valuable data. Under Armour, originally a performance apparel company, unveiled a new line of fitness trackers and smart shoes this year that aggregates a wide range of human data. The company’s $400 Healthbox includes a smartband for tracking movement and sleep, a heartband which fits around the chest, a scale that reads weight and body fat percentage all of which connect to a dashboard app which serves as a central hub for all the health and fitness data.  Similarly, Healbe’s GoBe claims that it can track calorie intake purely from a wrist band by analysing glucose levels – but the accuracy of its data is questionable. I’ve still not seen a device that can automatically and accurately track calories consumed. Until this happens, the goal of a holistic lifestyle tracker will remain out of reach.

The Human Touch

Gathering data is just the first step for fitness wearables. At the Fitness Tech Summit held on the opening day at CES, Bill Besselman, VP Integration and Digital Strategy at Under Armour admitted that translating the data into outcome-based insights tailored to individuals was a challenge. This was likely the key driver behind the company’s decision to put its Connected Fitness user data through IBM’s Watson which uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data. According to a statement from IBM, the aim is to provide “timely, evidence-based coaching about health and fitness-related issues.” 

And with all the tech and data driving this category, the human touch is still crucial. Translating insights into real-life action requires the expertise of doctors, fitness instructors and other highly-trained and specialized personnel.

Connected Snowboards, Yoga Mats and Clothing

Other devices that have appeared in the sports tech market include Xon’s snowboard bindings that record, visualise and analyze user rides and provide others with your location and alerts them if you go off-piste. The SmartMat is a yoga mat and coach combined, allowing users to plug their iPad in to the yoga mat’s dock providing user access to classes, real-time advice and tuition.

There was also a lot of buzz about getting the device off the wrist and embedding them into clothing.  This could present interesting opportunities for marketers, but until the washing machine manufacturers find a way to wash the wearables without destroying the electronics, it’s likely that many of these will never progress passed the prototype stage.

In, fact, many of the wearable devices launched at CES never make it into production and, for those that do, many will be consigned to the bedside drawer unless they provide something more useful than basic data such as step counts. Devices that can track a range of activities and movements without manual intervention and provide advice and recommendations are most likely to become part of our lives.

There is gold within the wearables data mine but we are still in the nascent stages of panning for it. For a victor to emerge from the crowded Battle of the Bands, data, analysis and human expertise will have to seamlessly converge.  The race is on.  

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