While the global market for wearable devices expands at lightning speed, sports and fitness has been bar far the most lucrative subcategory. CCS Insight has predicted that 214 million wearables will ship in 2017, including 100 million smartwatches, driven by the growth of existing devices plus the launch of the Apple Watch and a variety of competing Android-based devices. Many of these are customized for health and fitness applications: devices to measure heart rate and pulse, sleep quality, activity and speed are becoming a common sight. Some users wear them to keep track of fitness performance, while others use them simply to ensure they’ve engaged in enough mild physical activity for the day. Most of these devices can be synced with smartphone applications and even social media profiles so users can monitor their fitness and set goals. Allowing users to share their fitness details with others is also a great form of viral marketing.
No doubt aware of the potential for word-of-mouth promotion, many makers of the devices are seeking partnerships with high profile sporting events such as marathons to raise awareness of their products among both elite and casual athletes. The San Francisco Marathon recently announced new fitness technology partnerships with wearable fitness wrist band maker Fitbit, video-based personal trainer app FitStar, and workout tracking app RunKeeper. The partnership involves the creation of a custom apps designed specifically for the marathon that will allow both runners and spectators to access “interactive and enhanced features for a unique and completely connected race experience.” (No doubt it will also allow race sponsors to reach runners and spectators, as well.)
For Fitbit users, runners will be able to check their split times and final times. Spectators can use the app to keep track of their friends and family who are running the race with maps and position information, easily letting them know where to go and cheer throughout the city all the way to the finish line, according to race organizers.
For the most elite runners, the apps can be a good way to ensure they are keeping their pace steady, though critics point out that paying too much attention to devices and not enough to what the body is telling the runner can lead to trouble. The big money, however, isn’t in marathon winners, it’s in the legions of couch potatoes who wish to become more active but need a little prodding to get up off the couch, or who enjoy wearing visible evidence of a fitness-based lifestyle. (Think of it as the new “Do you work out?” pickup line.)
There is also room to expand the capabilities of wearable fitness technology. Today’s devices are great for sensing heart rate, movement and altitude (later versions of Fitbit device have a built-in altimeter to measure stair climbing) and calories burned. Eventually, the devices will be capable of measuring blood sugar levels, hydration, oxygen saturation and more.