Since the launch of the first edition Fitbit in 2009, wearable fitness technology has grown from virtually nonexistent to selling more than 444.7 million units worldwide —with no signs of slowing down any time soon. What started with a modest three-inch device ultimately opened the door to massive innovation, from augmented reality (AR) headsets to smart clothing, and with a global pandemic shaking awake large players in the fitness industry, there are more wearable options for consumers to choose from now than ever before.
So, which wearable fitness device reigns supreme? Better yet, what can we expect from the next generation of fitness wearables? As emerging partnerships continue to expand the possibilities of personalized health insights and fitness guidance, there’s never been a better time to explore the wearable fitness technology market.
The Current Wearable Fitness Tech Market
When Fitbit was first introduced in 2009, it raised the bar for how consumers could gamify, track, and contextualize their health and wellness. Early on, the market consisted of mainly basic wearables, which lacked the capabilities to run third-party apps and software. Today, we define wearable tech as any smart or electric device that’s been designed to be worn on a user’s body.
The basis of wearable fitness devices is a sensor-based communicative system that monitors, stimulates, and analyzes biophysical functions, like running or walking. The purpose of these devices is to help facilitate everyday life, encouraging healthy behaviors through fitness activities. Likewise, wearable technology monitors physiological parameters, such as heart rate, to protect users and inform them of potential health-related risks. In this way, wearable technologies also have the potential to build motivation by increasing health awareness through timely feedback.
Wearable tech can take several forms, from jewelry and accessories to items of clothing and headgear. Smart fitness wearables can be worn anywhere on the body, such as the wrist, ankle, or head. They’re equipped with the ability to connect to the internet and sync with Bluetooth, so personal health data can be exchanged between a user’s network and personal device instantly.
Types of Available Wearables
As soon as the Fitbit exploded onto the market, alternate brands were quick to get involved in creating their own wearable tech. Available devices now range from wristwear, like traditional fitness bands and smartwatches, to headwear and bodywear. For headwear, fitness lovers can tap into smart glasses, virtual reality (VR) goggles and headsets, and in-ear “hearables.” For bodywear, smart fitness technology is even available as leggings.
The most common types of wearables preferred by avid health enthusiasts include:
Smart Jewelry — Small smart devices that typically work in conjunction with a smartphone application for interaction and display. Available as wristbands, smartwatches, smart glasses, rings, and pins.
Fitness Trackers — Available as wristbands or straps to monitor physical activity and vital levels. Do not need to be linked to a smartphone for a function, however, can be connected wirelessly to an application for data storage and processing.
Hearables — Artificial intelligence (AI) earbuds that utilize machine learning to adapt to a user’s environment and filter background noise. Aside from providing a playlist for a workout, hearables can also be used as fitness trackers.
Smart Clothing — Incorporate meshed wiring or hardware woven into the fabric to connect to Bluetooth via a user’s smart device. Can perform a variety of tasks, including fitness and health monitoring. Specifically, smart leggings and smart socks can measure monitor vibrations or steps to collect personalized health data.
Augmented Reality (AR) Headsets and Glasses — Integrate digital information into a user’s vision to populate their line of sight with digital content. Allows for interaction among physical and virtual objects, creating a unique atmosphere to work out or to monitor physical activity.
Recent data has shown that the rise of the wristband, sparked by later editions of the Fitbit, has been replaced with the rise of the hearable. Currently, wristbands account for just 11.5% of the wearable device market, with hearables dominating a massive 64.2% share. Up second in demand are smartwatches, which account for nearly a quarter of the market. Mainstream fashion brands, including Fossil Watches and Michael Kors, have also branched into the smartwatch market.
High-Ranking Features of Wearable Technology
Considering that wearable fitness devices can take shapes as varied as a pair of leggings or a pair of sunglasses, it can be tricky to understand which features are a must-have for fitness fanatics. However, at this stage of the game, there are certain features that all users should come to expect from their fitness technology:
Bluetooth (BLE) standard technology GPS integration
Simple user interface (UI) design Personalization Interoperability
Bluetooth is a given for any wearable fitness device, as this technology makes it possible to connect to another smart device, such as a cell phone or tablet. This technology is also what allows a device to transmit, process, and store user data, to be able to track the evolution of your fitness over time. In this same vein, users who plan on wearing their fitness tech while on a run or track steps will want to be sure their device has GPS integration. This capability allows a smart device to track distance as well as traveled terrain, including potential incline or decline.
A simple UI design is also a must for wearable tech, both for the device itself and for its adjacent mobile app (when applicable). A simple interface eliminates a tricky learning curve and makes it easier for new users to adjust to the technology. Likewise, an interface that’s easy to navigate is imperative for devices that use small screens, such as wristbands, so a user can clearly understand their vital levels.
Personalization and interoperability are key for users to apply the above features to their existing lifestyle. Devices must allow for customization and user preferences. Similarly, wearable technology should offer the ability to sync with other devices, such as a cellphone or tablet, to remain connected on all platforms.
Emerging Leaders in Wearable Fitness Technology
In the fitness arena, wearable technology has primarily focused on diet, physical activity, and an increased understanding of a user’s health. When wearable fitness technology branched into the commercial sector, this technology developed an additional lifestyle focus. One of the more successful early devices was a partnership between Nike and Apple, which introduced Nike+iPod, a technology that used a sensor in the user’s shoe along with an iPod to track the pace and distance of a workout.
Since then, Apple has continued to introduce new wearable fitness technology through its multiple personal devices. The company’s latest initiative, Apple Fitness+, premiered in December of 2020 to bring studio-style workouts to Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. Launched alongside a Fitness app, this initiative aims to bridge the gap between wearable fitness devices and a personalized, immersive experience—without a bulky VR headset necessary.
Current brands leading the wearable technology market include:
Apple, with 36.2% of the recent market share Xiaomi, with 8.8% of the recent market share Samsung, with 8.5% of the recent market share Huawei, with 6.7% of the recent market share BoAt, with 3.5% of the recent market share
What the Future of Wearable Fitness Technology Holds
With Apple leading the pack in wearable technology, it’s no surprise that the latest Apple Watch update, watchOS 7, introduced a dedicated app store for the smartwatch. However, this latest move has also caught the attention of mobile app development firms. It’s to be anticipated that a growing number of these firms will release updated wearable apps, which can open the market to Android and other smartphone carriers.
Where we stand, the future of wearable fitness technology seems bright. As these smart devices evolve from basic wristbands to cutting-edge headgear, only time can tell how much further this technology evolves.
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