Time to get your butt off the couch: Fitness app market to grow 63 percent by 2017 [report]

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The already wide world of sports and fitness apps is projected to grow by 63 percent over the next few years, according to a report this week from research firm IHS Electronics and Media.

The company predicts that global installations (or downloads) of sports and fitness mobile apps are expected to rise from 156 million in 2012 to 248 million in 2017, boosting demand for already popular wearable health devices, like heart-rate monitors and activity trackers.

Year to year, growth will slow – from the nearly 40 percent increase in 2012 to a 15 percent climb this year – but the firm said installations are projected to remain strong.

While IHS estimates that the fitness app market will expand, it’s worth noting that growth is being led by a more narrow set of top apps. Smartphone app stores are chock full of sports and fitness apps, but IHS said that the top 20 free apps in the sports, fitness and health category accounted for a cumulative total of 231 million installations on their own, as of April. Some of those apps include Runtastic,  Azumio, MapMyFitness and Runkeeper.

Back in May, the firm projected that global shipments of wearable sensors and computers will climb to 56.2 million in 2017 from 43.8 million this year. But, as we’ve noted before, mobile apps are increasingly making use of the smartphone as a wearable computer.

Using the phone’s GPS functionality, accelerometer or other sensors, apps like ProtoGeo’s Moves and Noom’s Walk enable the smartphone to behave much like a stand-alone fitness tracker. Eroding battery power can be a concern with these apps (although the companies have made valiant technical efforts to preserve power) but they can be a cheaper and more convenient alternative to buying separate wearable gadgets.

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