Sports & Fitness Tech Outlook for 2017

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For those in the medical and healthcare field, I wrote about trends for 2017.

The article got interest so we will do the same exercise for sports and fitness technology.

Sports & Fitness is a different field from medical. We see a lot of Kickstarter projects with colourful lights claiming medical benefits, without evidence. There are teams with good software but poor hardware (e.g. AndroidWear), and teams with good hardware but poor software (e.g. Garmin).

One good thing happened in 2016 though: many companies exited from wearables. Jawbone got bankrupted, Pebble got bought out, and many brands like Asus confirmed they won’t release other watches. This means consolidation: many realized it is actually HARD. We are left with the only companies actually providing SOLID value. No more 30+ wearables at your local Best Buy store, but just a selection of the best.

What’s next for 2017? I predict the following:

  • Fitbit will launch a Fitbit App Store early 2017, based on the work done by Pebble. Developers will be able to tap into the metrics and offer free & paid apps. Think “Weight management app” or “Employee health program app”. The first developers to take this opportunity will tap into dozens of millions of users.
  • GPS sports watches all have now the same features: Glonass & GPS, optical heart rate monitor, activity tracking. I can’t see any brand that has a unique technology. So why should we pick one over the other? An App store is a good way to begin. Garmin, Suunto, Polar will have to be proactive and think how to make their platform as attractive as possible.
  • There will be more watches and devices catered for fashion, both by Western and Chinese brands. They might have a heart rate sensor and accelerometers but measurements will not be reliable. Instead, they are endorsed by models, singers, sports icons, and will come with a variety of colours and materials. Still, I predict most of the devices will be cheap, easy to use and drive prices to the bottom. And that’s a good thing. More people will be more proactive with their health, and even if measurements are inaccurate, it’s still good info later for your physician.
  • Earables are going to be BIG ! There are many reasons. First, earphones are at a perfect location to recognize voice commands and act as a bridge to Alexa or a similar service. Imagine going for a run, and having an assistant map a route and give cues for optimal training. Second, earphones can measure an accurate, if not better heart rate, as well as blood O2 sat. Earphones can also filter sounds from your environment, letting you focus on what you have to do. No other wearables can do this. Don’t also forget music-playing abilities. The only downside is the battery. Bonus point for the first company to offer an earphone that can last 4+ days.
  • More sensors! Withings have excellent sensors to measure air quality. Valencell or its competitors will have optical heart monitors measuring heart rate variability, and these will be integrated into high-end sports watches this year. What about putting together all existing sensors, such as UV exposure sensor, body temperature, O2 saturation, wrist blood pressure, EKG sensor like AliveCor and have one wrist device that measure everything, continuously? This can help athletes perform better, and see what they can improve.
  • Personal drones will be more accessible and easier to use. We can now add heart rate graphs as well as other metrics on top of the videos.

What about companies like New Balance with watches like RunIQ? Nike has been there years ago, gave up, and prefer to embed software in other companies’s hardware instead (Apple). UnderArmour has an interesting suite of devices. But who actually uses this? I don’t know any serious athlete who has an UnderArmour activity tracker. Companies like New Balance should instead bet on smaller startups launched by dedicated athletes and mobile software developers.

2017 promises to be an interesting year for sports & fitness. I’m watching the space and will report any new interesting technology. Hope you will be around with me!

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