Fitness trackers more than just a trend

Credit: Michelle  Wan /Art Editor Credit: Michelle Wan /Art Editor
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Wearable technology made its mark on the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) from Jan. 7–10 in Las Vegas. Among the notable wearables were smart glasses, smart watches, and smart earbuds — made by Intel and fitted with heart-rate monitors. Wearable technology has become increasingly popular due to tests and launches of notable gadgets such as the Pebble Smartwatch and Google Glass last year.
Technology-loaded watches and glasses are not the only players in the wearable technology space, though. Fitness trackers, usually worn around the wrist, have risen in popularity over the past year.

Nike, Inc. recently updated its fitness-tracker line with the second iteration of its Nike+ FuelBand, called the Nike+ FuelBand SE. Meanwhile, Fitbit, Inc. released its first wrist fitness trackers, the Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Force, in 2013. Though the functions that these products tout are impressive, many of these fitness trackers seem incomplete.

Nevertheless, they are here to stay, and their popularity will surely increase as technology companies round out the gadgets to perform a wider range of functions.

Currently, many available fitness trackers have limited functionality and are tied closely to smartphone applications. For example, the Sony SmartBand, shown at CES 2014, relies on its Lifelog application to record information about physical activity and show that information to the user. The fitness tracker itself lacks a screen, making it impossible for users to view basic information about their activity, such as how far they ran, on their wrists.

Furthermore, some trackers — like the Sony SmartBand and the Razer Nabu — do not provide certain expected and essential functions, such as the time of day.

As fitness-tracker producers continue to gauge what their users want, they would be wise to provide updated versions that move their products closer to being all-in-one devices, as smartphones function for many people.

The Razer Nabu already allows users to see text messages, emails, and calls — a function that was once unique to smart watches. As fitness-tracker producers expand the capabilities of their products, the devices may merge with smart watches until they perform almost the same functions.

Why not consider them one category of devices, then? Whereas smart watches tend to be larger, fitness bands must provide similar functions on smaller viewing areas for more streamlined devices that do not interfere during workouts. Fitness trackers have the capability to not only provide functions similar to those of smart watches, but also present those functions in a sleeker manner — a feature athletes may want.

Until wearable wrist technology provides a range of capabilities like those currently fragmented between smart watches and fitness trackers, they will not be effectively marketed as mainstream products. People have come to expect their devices to do everything.

Although fitness trackers do not fulfill these expectations now, they will not die out. Instead, their producers will continue to perfect them until they are worn on every wrist.