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The Next Big Thing
Why you may finally wear a fitness trackerWearables are largely aimed at the person who just wants to maintain a good weight, sleep enough, and maybe get in a little cardio. CNET's Brian Cooley tells you why 2014 could be the breakout year for wearable tech.
I don't think anything in Consumer Tech right now deserves the label Next Big Thing as much as smart wearables, especially in the fitness category. -The Flex consists of a flexible rubbery band and a tiny tracker module which sits inside. This gadget goes well beyond your average pedometer. To measure sleep, you tuck the one into a special clock arm strap you wear in bed. -Jawbone Up features a bendable design crammed with sensors that track everything from what you eat to when you sleep. It even logs mood swings. -Force posts a real alphanumeric OLED screen, another smartwatch likability is phone notifications. -It runs Android, it can count steps and measure your stride, track your speed and how far you ran and it also has Bluetooth. So, you could play music through a wireless headset. -The current design darling of activity monitors is the Shine for Misfit Wearables that's worn on your wrist, pocket or as a necklace. -Now, this stage has a lot of gerrymandering going on as we all try and figure out what constitutes the smart wearable category. Fitness wearables, smartwaches and augmented reality glasses, all have a lot of distinctions but also a lot of overlap. Part of that is why you'll find some wide differences in the estimates of the market size from as much as $4.6 billion this year, to as little as $1.5 billion next year. Now, we had seen that thing that fitness wearables really broke out around January 2013 at the Consumer Electronics Show. Prior to that, this sort of tech was mostly found on either a triathlete's wrist on in the pages of one of those dumb airline shopping magazines. Suddenly though, the products started to speak to the needs of real people. They're all using the currency of the three S's, stairs, steps and sleep. No longer that you have to be into like Body Mass Index measurement or cross fit profile or a gym membership. Instead, this is all real relatable to all of us. The smart phone has become a sort of key, it unlocks a lot of the richness of what the device is learning about you, displaying it on its nice intuitive interface or also via web services that lets you not only really get deep into what's happening but also gamify your performance against people you know or the broader user population wearing that kind of device. Now, as personal as fitness wearables are, there are at least two major parties that would love to look over your shoulder as you use one. First of all, a lot of corporations are now nibbling way of the idea of incenting you to wear one of these in exchange for perhaps better health insurance rates or other benefits. They want to encourage you to be healthy but they might also then be able to find out if you're not. It will be an interesting development in the future. Secondly, advertisers and marketers would love to have a look at this data and I have little doubt they will in some form. Let's face it. Millions and millions of dollars are wasted, marketing weight loss programs to thin people and sports drinks to lazy people. This kind of data coming off fitness devices in real time could really help to make a lot of that more efficient. Bottom line, if 2013 set the table for fitness wearables as we believe, I agree with Juniper Research that 2014 will be the breakout year for them. But as that happens, watch for some interesting cannibalization because smartwatches are coming along in parallel. Most of us I don't think are gonna wanna wear one of each, but we do want the features from each. Who ends up owning that real estate on your wrist? That will be an interesting question to watch as we go and search of the Next Big Thing.