If you are unfamiliar with CES (Consumer Electronics Show), I’ll start by saying that it is the world’s largest consumer technology trade-show featuring over 3000 exhibitors (and if any reader out there wants to hook us up with an invite for 2014, we would be very interested in going)(and yes, this is basically the same opening paragraph as last year’s CES article, so sue me!). The 2013 event wrapped up on January 12th and this year’s hot topic was, apparently, activity trackers! While there were 15+ total trackers featured at CES, I picked out a few of my favorites to share with you and/or ones that I feel will make the biggest impact. So, without further ado, let’s get to the activity tracker parade!
Our first shout-out goes to the FitBit Flex, a best of CES 2013 winner that marks both Fitbit’s acknowledgement of the popularity of devices such as the Nike FuelBand, and their attempt to take over that portion of the market! FitBit’s has made a big push to release several new products over this last year (Aria, One, Zip), which is likely attributable to their major success with the FitBit Ultra. The FitBit Flex, like the FitBit One, brings all of the pedometer love from the FitBit One (tracks steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep cycle), the connection power of Bluetooth 4.0, a silent alarm, and water proofing, but instead of a signature FitBit clip, the Flex has an interchangeable, colorful wristband (available for pre-order in Black & Slate with Teal, Tangerine, and Navy available spring 2013). This model comes in at the same price as the FitBit One, $99.95. It should be noted that this is the first FitBit to roll out without a full feature screen. In addition, it does not feature an altimeter (that means no tracking of the number of staircases climbed).
Withings Smart Activity Tracker
This activity tracker comes from our favorite scale company, Withings. Frankly, I think this is the competitive (return) slap in the face to FitBit. If you rewind to the original release of the FitBit Ultra, you would note them touting the fact that their device/web interface connected with Withings, meaning that all of your fitness data was compiled in one location. Roughly one year later at CES 2012 , though, FitBit announced the FitBit Aria WiFi Scale, which could easily be considered Withings’ largest competitor in the WiFi scale market. Fast forward to CES 2013 and we have the Withings Smart Activity Tracker.
Withings has developed a tracking device that is extremely small, like the FitBit, and in the usual activity tracker fashion, it tracks steps, stairs, distance, calories burned, sleep, and connects/syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.0. More importantly though, it manually tracks your heart rate through your finger (note: I say “manual” because this isn’t a constant heart rate/temperature monitor like the Basis band–you have to make the decision to check your heart rate and then put the device on your finger). Unfortunately, the Withings Smart Activity Tracker has no release date, yet, and hasn’t released any information on their price point, but we would be surprised to see the price be much higher than the standard $75 – $125 range that is common for all of the other major players in this area.
While on the topic of Withings, I should also mention the additions/changes they’ve made to their scale line-up. Our favorite WiFi scale will be getting Bluetooth 4.0 added to its hardware, along with a name change (now simply called the “Wireless Scale WS-30”), and a price drop to $99.95. Withings is also adding a new scale to its line-up–the Withings Smart Body Analyzer–which touts the same great features as the Wireless Scale, but adds the ability to detect air quality (apparently intended to be in the bedroom in order to gauge sleeping/living conditions), and heart rate detection. The Withings Smart Body Analyzer comes out early this quarter for $149.95.
I want to start by explaining why I added to this to the list. Normally I try to stick to only sharing devices/products that would actually be used by the people reading these posts (i.e., adults, although I’m sure many of our readers have children), but I’ve got a soft spot regarding the younger generation’s struggles with childhood obesity (maybe because of the return of Jillian to the Biggest Loser, and no, Mom, not because we’re thinking about having kids) and thought this one was worth sharing, even just for the sake of getting people talking about it more. GeoPalz is the first activity tracker developed specifically for children. With that said, nothing particularly innovative is going into this product. It is a water-resistant pedometer with a case specific to your child’s interests (football, ladybug, doll, bunny, etc.). What makes GeoPalz interesting, though, is the rewards program that allows parents to connect to Amazon.com and choose items that your child can “earn” by being active. Lets say your son would like to have a new video game and you would like for him to have the option to “earn” the item, making sure he does his earning outside rather than sitting on the couch playing even more video games. So, little Billy goes out and plays baseball with his friends and he manages to walk over 10,000 steps. If you set a goal of 20,000 steps, then little Billy just has to play one more game of baseball, or spend a couple of hours playing tag, or Red Rover, or what have you, to get that video game. The idea is certainly an intriguing one and I’m curious to see how the product does. I think this is a fun way to reward children for being active, but I’m never sure how I feel about offering an award for something they should already be doing. I know when I was in the intended age range of GeoPalz (5 – 12), if I was indoors between the temperatures of 30 – 90 my dad would literally pick me up and move me outside, and a rewards system might make it harder for children to learn to self-motivate to be active later on in life.
At first glance, this is undoubtedly one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen come out of CES, but upon further investigation, I think that they may just have something here. The Spree uses movement tracking, heart rate monitoring, and temperature measurement to gauge distance, body temp, speed, time, calories burned, optimal work out zones, heart rate, and energy use. The device that is doing the measurement actually fits inside of the headband seen in the video. It seems to work similar to heart rate straps, but instead of around your chest, it goes on your head. Spree focuses on your present energy/fitness level and helps you track improvements overtime. Honestly, I haven’t been able to find a plethora of information on this gadget other than what is listed on their site, but I am definitely interested. Again, I realize this thing looks silly, but it could prove to be a very powerful product considering the amount of studies being done on the accuracy of taking heart rate pressure and temperature from the ears or head, rather than the wrist or chest, and many people wear headbands when running or exercising anyway. After its appearance at CES, the device has just 45 days left to raise it’s $100,000 goal from IndieGoGo. It looks like the Spree will cost somewhere in the realm of $299.
Finally, we have one more company trying to hop on the strapless heart rate market. The Mio Alpha is a product very similar to the Basis band, but more focused on runners/cyclers, rather than the everyday fitness type (the Basis is really more of an all-day activity tracker, whereas the Mio Alpha is more of a runner’s watch). The Mio Alpha is a fitness watch that tracks heart rate using an optical sensor paired with LEDs. It is confusing, though, that the Mio Alpha doesn’t provide a GPS option, considering it appears to be more focused on taking on fitness watches from the likes of Garmin and Nike (which feature a GPS tracker in most of their entry level models), while staying at a similar price point of $199.00. I’ll admit the lack of a heart rate strap is nice but missing out on the GPS tracking of more popular watches is very hard to stomach. That said, the Mio Alpha is a sleek looking device that seems like it is probably very comfortable and more lightweight than most of it’s competitors. Although, if you don’t mind the heart rate monitor strap, you can get a great-looking and accurate Polar watch, like the FT4, for significantly cheaper ($60-90).
While there were many promising products announced, this year’s CES was a bit of a drag in my opinion. In addition to being a runner, I’m also a technology buff, and the current obsession with 4k TVs, mind control devices, and releasing more and more activity trackers is really putting a damper on my excitement about the show. Even so, I’m looking forward to seeing some of the new comers hit the market, especially because it helps to keep the big guys working to make better, more competitive products. Again, I should mention that I left out a handful of other trackers, including a new tracker from Striiv (the Striiv Play), and an updated tracker from BodyMedia–the BodyMedia Core 2. I also left out the mountain of different headphone products, which I feel is an extremely saturated market. However, I would like to make a quick mention of the Aftershokz headphones, which actually keep the earbud just outside of the ear in order to help you listen to your surroundings for safety purposes and keeps the headphones from getting uncomfortable during extended periods of use, like a long run.
Before I sign off for the day, I need to leave you with a little gem that first made me laugh and then left me wondering, do these things actually work?
Steve is an Executive Recruiter at Robert Half Executive Search in Madison, WI with a business degree in Information Systems and E-Commerce from the University of Toledo. Steve loves spending his time away from work; running, gaming, watching movies, checking out new social networking tools/sites/start-ups and blogging.