CES: Fitness, health tech all about wireless monitoring

The majority of announcements at the show's first Fitness TechZone in some way involved personal monitoring, but they boasted little new or necessary tech.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

LAS VEGAS--CES 2011 was the first to group sports and fitness tech into a dedicated zone, appropriately named the Fitness TechZone. The overarching theme throughout these booths (and those at the neighboring Mommy Tech zone) has been about mobile monitoring (of heart rate, memory skills, anxiety levels, sleeping babies, and more).

Unfortunately, even among the coolest booths, it was hard to find any truly new and exciting tech. Everything felt like a spin-off or extension of previous years' unveilings. It seems that we're still a few years off from, for instance, heart-rate monitors that don't require those finicky chest straps and pausing to touch the watch for readings.

Fitness TechZone debuts at CES 2011 (photos)

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And even the more innovative concepts, like the sleek new baby monitors coming out of Samsung, Withings, and Mobi, have features that feel somewhat superfluous. Is the ability to create a new playlist in the nursery really going to put the baby to sleep, or in any way help monitor it? And does cooing from your iPhone into the nursery speakers really comfort an infant?

So, too, linger questions about privacy. As much as these questions are the norm when any new concept is introduced, they're still worth considering. What's the real value of wireless body fat scales for our kids that can hide their readings from them? Live video streaming from an awkward headset? Blood pressure readings updated every morning on Facebook?

One of my favorite discoveries was over at the Clarity booth, and it isn't even brand new. The folks at the amplified telephone company did a thorough rethink of customer service a few months ago when they developed ClarityLogic, a free service through which customer service reps can access the phone to make diagnoses of any issues, without the caller having to understand--or even say--anything at all. The tech itself may not be thrilling, but it's a creative concept that will likely prove valuable for Clarity phone users--and by extension the company--in the years to come.

There's no question that it is becoming increasingly affordable to monitor our health across more and more parameters. What we do with the resulting data is what will truly affect personal health and fitness. Maybe next year we'll see a slew of apps that help us better understand this data; set goals around it; and most importantly of all, become motivating forces in our headsets and get us to take the stairs, choose the apple, kick the habit, and so much more.