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Summary:

Next year millions of consumers use fitness devices and apps designed to help them count their steps, calories, sleep and other personal metrics. But in the emerging world of connected wellness tools will newly aware consumers be using apps or devices?

Jawbone Up

Will apps or devices track the quantified self?

As people lurch into the New Year vowing to lose their holiday pounds, my hunch is millions of consumers will be aided by a few fitness devices and apps scored this holiday season — all designed to help them count their steps, calories, sleep and other personal metrics. But in the emerging world of connected wellness tools will newly aware consumers be using apps or devices? Or does it even matter, since the service is king?

We’ve called it the rise of the quantified self, as mobile devices and an always-on connection meet cheap sensors that can connect back to the web. Dedicated devices such as the Body Bugg or the FitBit (see disclosure) take advantage of sensors to track movement and even sleep, and then send data back to a web-based portal. On the Apple-only app side, iTreadmill, Lose it, The Eatery and others help with tracking steps, making sure you eat well and other wellness goals. The Android market has MealSnap and RunKeeper, while blending the two are dedicated products such as the Nike+ system that links a physical sensor to a variety of apps such as RunKeeper.

Dedicated devices are a hot gift this season.

As a Fitbit user for the last eight months, I’m a convert to the device side (although I have tried my fair share of apps as well). So far, the device side has seen a boost this holiday shopping season, according to Amazon and analysts. Amazon said the personal health tracking device category is on the rise for best-selling brands include Fitbit, BodyMedia, Muve and Zeo. A spokeswoman emailed, “Fitbit is our #1 Most Wished For in this category and the #2 and #3 Best Sellers (depending on color).”

Deutsche Bank analyst Jonathan Goldberg expected that such devices have hit a tipping point in the retail channels. He noted that 67 percent of 100 Best Buys DB surveyed stock some form of smartphone fitness accessory. And 48 percent of stores stocked Fitbit. Customers also seems pretty aware of the devices in general. He said via email, “My take on all this is that this idea really resonates. If a tiny, privately held company like Fitbit can made itself known to almost half the Best Buy retail clerks across the country, that tells me there is something deeply appealing about the idea.”

The category has been somewhat dominated in this last year by the Fitbit and the BodyBugg, but last week Jawbone introduced the Up device, which Darrell reviewed. But Up disappointed customers so much that Jawbone halted production to fix the problems in the device. That hasn’t deterred Jawbone’s investors, which just awarded the company $40 million more to break into the category. And discussions with other consumer accessories companies indicate that more such products are on the way next year.

The app market has been around for longer and is growing.

The Fitbit tracker.

But for most people adding a device to track their steps, or going to a web site to enter in their caloric intake, might be a bit much. Already people probably use an application or two to track their food or perhaps their daily runs. According to research in November from ABI Research, the sports and health mobile application market will grow to over $400 million in 2016 – up from just $120 million in 2010. Unsurprisingly many of these apps will get an added boost from tying to some of the devices already in or about the enter the market, according to ABI.

This may relate to an app like RunKeeper that synchs to the Nike+ system for better tracking and trail history, or it might be the ability to send your food data from Lose it or The Eatery over to your Fitbit web page, or vice versa.

The leading edge of early adopters in this market are the die-hard fitness fanatics and maybe some geeks that like to play with data, but as this holiday draws to a close, I think we’re about to hit a tipping point where average people interested in improving their health start to try out gadgets or applications and services designed to get them motivated and monitoring their wellness progress. The key will be making it easy, accessible and giving consumers the ability to link devices to the app ecosystem quickly. In that way services might be the best bet.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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  1. I’m starting a business adjacent to this space. I think that apps will whet appetites for a short time, but the limited depth of data and high-touch nature will make them more of a novelty than anything.

    More devices will be necessary, or at least more sensors. Accelerometers won’t cut it for long…

  2. We really need more than just accelerometer health data. The sensors do exist, and it would be possible to at least capture blood glucose, blood oxygen, galvanic skin response, and other direct read through the skin values that could actually provide some real data to correlate with health. Perhaps when someone makes a real “FitBit” then we’ll be able to track more than just if we couldn’t sleep or got our daily exercise in.

  3. Many health tracking apps are fun to do, although I doubt whether they really help to lose weight: http://foodintakecontrol.blogspot.com/2012/01/my-top-3-of-free-apps-that-support-you.html

  4. The limits of accelerometer-only data is exactly why MyBasis.com is developing a watch with a heart rate sensor and galvanic skin response sensors in conjunction with an accelerometer.

  5. If you’re overwhelmed with all the health application and health gadget options out there, make sure to check out http://www.healthslick.com. There you can search for health apps, health gadgets, and publications about their effectiveness!

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