The Race to Connect Fitness

10/10/2012

The market for connected sports and fitness devices is on track for a world record when it comes to sheer adoption numbers, but how big will it get? Several key players look to push the boundaries of the market, bringing it to new heights and, ultimately, mainstream adoption. Who are these players? And perhaps more importantly, how will they connect our devices?

The latest numbers from ABI Research, www.abiresearch.com, suggests three vendors, Nike, Polar, and adidas, lead the wearable-device market in sports, fitness, and wellbeing. The companies were evaluated based on device performance and overall company strategy. ABI suggests commitment to innovation is key to success in this market, along with a commitment to grow its reach.

Chris Zoller, product manager and head of community activation for Polar USA, www.polarusa.com, says innovation is important to any industry, but especially to the future of the sports and fitness monitoring market. Polar is actively involved in helping develop protocols and standards for devices and solutions in the sports and fitness arena. Its latest product, the Polar H7 heart-rate sensor, provides live feedback about an athlete’s heart rate on his mobile device.


“Innovation is a must,” Zoller says. “Having the sensor flexibility and interoperability of technologies to collect the data, and smart services and features to help use this data intelligently and provide motivation will be of the utmost importance.”

Whereas the concept of personal improvement is not a new one, today’s consumers have more options to take the steps needed to lose weight, improve general health, and/or enhance athletic performance—all thanks to M2M (machine-to-machine) and connected devices.

Zoller suggests technologies such as Bluetooth, along with the evolution of society and its desire to stay connected, will continue to dramatically change the market for connected sports and fitness devices. “Wireless technology is one of the most important aspects of the growth,” he says, adding his confidence lies in Bluetooth Smart technology for the future of the market.

According to the Bluetooth SIG (special interest group), www.bluetooth.com, Bluetooth Smart devices (usually sensors) are designed to gather a specific piece of information and send it to a Bluetooth Smart Ready device for monitoring and/or analysis, depending on the data being collected.

Location is one type of data Zoller believes has changed the game. “While not necessarily used for personal improvement, location brings social into exercise,” he says. “ … With (the) tagging of photos, tweets, Foursquare, etc., people are interested in location during training and sharing that with friends.”

In fact, data is at the heart of the trend toward connected sports and fitness devices. The ability to collect and view performance data helps consumers make important life changes, while also using their time efficiently. As with any M2M-enabled application, however, it is not just the collection and transmission of data that is important, it is translating this raw data into actionable information that can help us make decisions.

“The key part about obtaining this data is understanding what it’s telling you and how to apply it to your exercise program,” Zoller says. “(Polar believes) this is the next stage in sports technology. Not just creating or recording data, but using it intelligently.”

When it comes to achieving success in the connected sports and fitness market, companies must look beyond design and functionality of their product offerings. The most successful companies in the space will keep up with the latest trends in wireless technology, offering customers a seamless data-gathering experience that is interoperable with other devices.

Most importantly, the key to future success will be maintaining an innovative and flexible approach to the market, keeping in mind that data alone is of little use, but the tools to translate sports and fitness data into action can be priceless.






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