What exactly is “wearable technology,” and when did it start?
Wearable technology is clothing or accessories that work with computer and advanced electronic technologies. Most incorporate practical functions and features but may also have a purely critical or aesthetic agenda. Wearable devices like fitness trackers are a good example of the “Internet of Things” because they are part of the network of physical objects embedded with software that enables them to exchange data with a manufacturer, operator and other connected devices, without requiring human intervention.
Wearable technology was originally influenced by the vision of universal computing, which some would argue began as early as the 1930s, but didn’t see widespread adoption until the late 1970s, when digital watches became affordable. Fast forward 40 years and previously expensive and espionage-level technology, has permeated everyday life. In 2008, Ilya Fridman released a pair of earrings that included a hidden Bluetooth microphone, and the Spy Tie, a neck tie with a hidden color camera, made its debut shortly after.
According to Forbes Magazine, 71 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds wanted to own a piece of wearable technology in 2014. Similar studies in the UK disagreed, however, reporting that 56 percent of those polled thought wearable technology was just a fad.
Nonetheless, fitness trackers are ruling the wearable technology market. A fitness tracker is a device or application that monitors and tracks fitness/exercise metrics such as distance walked or ran, calories consumed or burned and, in some cases, heartbeat and quality of sleep.
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want… in a fitness band
Knowing exactly what you want in a fitness tracker will help you narrow your choices when shopping for one. Here are 13 key factors to keep in mind when selecting a fitness tracker:
Design and Size
Some fitness trackers and smart-watches seem HUGE. Do you want to wear a second smart phone or tablet on your wrist? Or do you want something small and sleek that you can almost forget is there? Remember, you’re wearing this on your body, so make sure you’re happy with how it looks.
Do you want a dashboard on the device? Do you want to feel like a Secret Service agent and talk into your wrist?
As with so many things in life, having a support community is helpful when trying to get fit. Sharing your efforts with others—family, friends, co-workers—helps create friendly competition.
Remember to check if your phone is supported by the fitness tracker you want. You’ll need Bluetooth 4.0 and your phone’s operating system must be supported.
Food tracking is essential to a fitness tracker doing a complete job. Sadly, there isn’t a way for your tracker to instantly know what you’re eating on its own—or for it to set off an alarm if you decide to binge on pizza and beer. You have to manually enter everything you consume and you have to be blatantly honest about it. However, a user-friendly app and good software with a vast database can make it a lot easier. Just scan that bar code or type a few letters and your food choice is found and logged.
Most fitness trackers can also monitor your sleep patterns, but you usually have to remember to tell them when you go to bed and when you wake up. Some, however, have automatic sleep detection so you don’t have to worry about it.
Having the option for silent alarms is nice to have. Your band can wake you with a vibration or remind you throughout the day to get up and move.
Heart Rate Monitor
Heart rate monitoring is extremely important, not only for you to be able to push your workouts to a more effective level, but also for the band itself to be able to track the calories you’re burning more accurately.
Removing your tracker every time you shower, swim or do dishes is a pain. Not to mention it won’t track your activity in a pool if it’s not waterproof.
It’s difficult for a fitness tracker to do its job if you have to recharge its battery daily. So be sure you select a tracker with long battery life; otherwise you have to take it off every day.
The app it runs on – easy breezy or difficult?
All fitness bands communicate with your smartphone via Bluetooth and talk to their companion apps. On the app, you get a full view of your progress in charts, graphs or percentages. If the app isn’t user friendly, you’re probably not going to use it.
For fitness bands this is a big deal. Are you already using a food tracker to journal daily food intake? Will that food tracking app play nice with your fitness tracker and its app?
It would be great if your fitness band could at least somewhat behave like a smartwatch— say, tell you who’s texting or phoning you or even allowing you to screen incoming notifications by simply looking at your wrist instead of digging out your phone.
You can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need… in a fitness band
The price of fitness trackers ranges from a reasonable $50 to the jaw dropping $10,000.
Budget bands rock the battery life and track your sleep, but they don’t track your heart rate. Just in case what they do measure isn’t what you’re after, let’s step up the price range.
Trackers under $200 are great, but none of them is a smartwatch. After all, you’re going to wear this on your wrist and people are going to be asking you what time it is because they will see the band and assume it’s a watch. I’ll admit that after I bought my Fitbit, Apple announced the Apple Watch and I WANTED it.
Wanted. Past tense.
What changed my mind? An 18-36 hour battery life. How effective can a smartwatch or fitness tracker be if I have to charge it practically every night? How is it supposed to track my sleep?
So my search for a smartwatch began . . .
Many smartwatches have issues with battery life, but there are some workable options out there. If you’re willing to pay $250 for the technology, the Fitbit Surge boasts a battery life of more than seven days, while the Garmin Vivoactive can last a whopping three weeks without GPS.
So there you have it—the breakdown of the most popular fitness trackers. When you’re ready to purchase one, or upgrade the one you have, you now have some guiding points to help you know which band or watch will win your Battle of the [Fitness] Bands.