Samsung's working on a chip that may finally make fitness trackers useful

Next up on the Korean electronics giant's plate: A bio-processor that can detect useful health details like body fat and stress level.

Fitness trackers are a hot holiday item, and there's a chance you got one as a gift this year.

But how long will you actually stick with the device? Most only track simple stats like the number of steps taken and calories burned. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch can keep tabs on your heart rate. I stuck with my Nike FuelBand (R.I.P.) for two years, but at some point even I decided it wasn't really that useful anymore. (My wife had given up a year earlier.) For more dedicated athletes, a fitness tracker may not be enough.

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Samsung, which also makes TVs and smartphones, is developing a chip for fitness and health devices. It's expected to come out in the first half of 2016.

Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung, the Korean electronics conglomerate, wants to take it up a notch. The company said Tuesday that it's working on a so-called "bio-processor" packed with sophisticated measuring tools that can track metrics like body fat, stress level, skeletal muscle mass, heart rate and rhythm, and skin temperature.

The additional capabilities could turn fitness trackers from a simple gift into a more integral health-tracking device that can provide specific data useful to more than just athletes. Samsung is looking to capitalize on our increasing obsession with health and well-being.

That obsession is borne out in the products that dominate the burgeoning market of wearable tech. The top player is fitness tracker Fitbit, followed by the Apple Watch and China's Xiaomi, a smartphone player that also makes an inexpensive fitness tracker called the Mi Band. Total shipments of wearable devices grew 198 percent in the third quarter over a year ago, according to IDC.

This chip may give Samsung's own smartwatches an edge over the competition. The company fell out of the top five players in the third quarter, according to IDC.

It won't just be smartwatches. Samsung said it has created mock devices, including a wristband and patch, to demonstrate how the chip could be used. The company stresses the small size of the chip, especially given all of the sensors packed inside, as a key advantage.

Samsung said the chip is in production now and will be available for fitness and health devices in the first half of 2016.

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