The annual Consumer Electronics Show has always been a hotbed of new ideas that utilize the latest technology to make our lives easier. Rather than robots designed to fetch things for the couch-sitting bum, however, this year’s recently concluded show in Las Vegas showed a shift in the opposite direction toward a trend that has been rising in popularity among gadget lovers over the past few years: a focus on health and fitness.
An interest in fitness is nothing new. Fad workout routines and machines boom and bust each year. The focus, though, on wireless electronics that prompt consumers to alter their diet and exercise habits represents a whole new market that CES has only begun to tap in the past couple years.
Electronics companies may be looking to work the fitness device angle to counter the massive saturation facing many other existing gadgets, such as smartphones, tablets and gaming devices. The public has seen so many versions of these items at previous years’ CES that interest, as well as sales, may start to stagnate.
TIME notes that sales of LCD televisions dipped for the first time ever in the first quarter of 2012. Shoppers looking to buy new flatscreens had likely already taken advantage of holiday sales, and were not replacing their televisions as often, according to the article.
Gaming consoles have also seen sales drop off a bit recently. The Los Angeles Times reports that console and game sales fell 20% last August from where they were a year prior. With the console industry facing competition from digital and mobile gaming, they too are finding themselves needing to delve into new markets to keep up.
The Rise in Health-Focused Electronics
The video game console industry’s response to changing competition and demographics may be partly responsible for some of the electronic wellness gadget’s current popularity.
Health and fitness gadgets have been slowly growing in popularity over the years, with ever advancing video game console technologies making working out more appealing to the tech crowd. Nintendo led the way for wireless gaming to tap into the fitness market, with its Wii Fit enabling gamers to break up sessions of WarioWare with bursts of yoga, balance and strength training exercises using its custom mat.
Xbox then got into the game with its body movement controlled Kinect Fitness package, which offers different dance and sports routines. The package even boasts Nike personal training, giving the experience of being in a class or a gym with your own trainer.
Much like how gaming companies used new technologies to first innovate game play and then to reach a whole new market, many of the companies at this year’s CES are aiming to expand their markets from purely tech-minded folk who watch the trends to those who might not ordinarily jump on the newest gadget.
Simply put, the money is in the mainstream – and there’s fierce competition to be the next have-to-have item.
Among the most prevalent items at previous years’ CES have been sportwatches, such as the Nike+ Sportband and Timex’s Run Trainer, which allow runners to track important facts like distance, heart rate and speed, with some even offering advice on when to stop for a drink of water.
At this year’s convention, the health-conscious and techies alike were treated to plenty of new versions of running watches and health bands that track and provide more information than existing models as well as wearable patches that monitor your vital signs for a week. There was also a fork that alerts you when you are eating too fast, among many other wellness related products.
Below is a sampling of some of the new health gadgets presented during CES 2013.
This pocket-sized device monitors heart and respiratory rates, blood oxygen level and heart variability.
- Calculates fitness and stress levels
- Plugs directly into an iPhone to display all readings and calculations
- Allows user to share information via various social networks, or to set privacy settings
- Made by Zensorium
- Currently available for purchase through Zensorium’s site
- Available in four colors
This prototype is a Wifi enabled scale that does much more than measure your weight, and, as an improvement over Withings previous Wifi scale, this one even tells you when it’s time to crack a window.
- Tracks body mass index and body fat levels, in addition to weight, and measures heart rate
- Monitors indoor air quality and gives alerts when ventilation is necessary
- Syncs wirelessly over Wifi or Bluetooth, sending information to mobile app
- Expected to be available for purchase in the first quarter of 2013
- Expected price: $149.95
IBitz for Kids
Made specifically for kids, this device is like the modern day Tamagotchi, only it requires the user to be physically active to keep the pet alive and happy.
- Pocket-sized colorful power keys operate alongside apps, which motivate children to run, walk, play and engage in other exercise to keep their virtual pets alive
- Wirelessly syncs to smartphones and tablets
- Made by GeoPalz
- Can create online groups to track family progress
- Available for pre-order through IndieGoGo
Unlike most utensils in your kitchen drawers, this one actually tells you how to eat.
- Fork keeps track of each time you take in a mouthful of food and vibrates when you are eating too fast
- Online dashboard and mobile apps allow user to track progress, monitor goals and share information with friends
- Mobile apps available for Android, iPhone and Windows phones
- Built in USB key for charging and connecting to computer or smartphone
- Made by Hapilabs
- Not yet available for sale
- Expected price: $99
A smooth surfaced, all metal fitness tracker, this device is about the size of a quarter and can be worn multiple ways.
- Replaceable battery lasts around six months
- Syncs to smartphones when placed on phone screen
- Keeps track of cycling and swimming progress in addition to walking and running
- Tap to activate sensors to find fitness progress
- Doubles as watch
- Can be worn clipped to clothing, on a necklace or on a wristband
- Was crowdfunded through IndieGogo
- $99 through Misfit website
- Misfit was co-founded by former Apple CEO John Sculley
A button-sized device that tracks various fitness indicators such as sleep and activity levels, FitBug Orb uses the power of a watch sized battery to give you real-time data.
- Tracks activity levels, measuring calories burned, steps taken, distance travelled, pace and more
- Choose data display: streaming, beacon or on-demand
- 3 wear options
- Battery lasts an expected 6 months
- Works with Bluetooth Smart Ready devices including the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, the new iPad and more
- Part of the larger FitBug family, which includes the currently available Air as well as the recently debuted Wow and Luv
- $49.99. Includes 12 month free access to premium FitBug cloud and member portal, including online coaching plans
Where The Industry Stands
This year’s CES lot represents new targets and a higher ceiling for health related fitness devices. Products that monitor factors athletes might not normally take into account are being lauded, like watches that tell you to rehydrate and scales that alert you when the air quality in your bedroom is poor.
Children are another newer focus in the fitness market, with items like the iBitz tracker motivating kids to lead an active lifestyle and combating childhood obesity.
Between sensors that keep track of a wearer’s every vital sign to utensils that monitor the way we eat, technology’s biggest innovators are on a roll when it comes to capitalizing on health trends.
But the coming challenge won’t be necessarily the technology itself – the challenge will be making these products a part of the average American’s daily routine.
Written by Kameela Din, a freelance writer and core contributor to NerdWallet Shopping.
Original image from Shutterstock.