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2/5/2014
09:06 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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Internet Of Crap Takes On Your Love Handles

Today's manic rush to strap connected sensors onto body parts sometimes feels more like parody than business plan. Are wearable fitness trackers a game-changer or gimmick?

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10 Wearables To Watch
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

What percentage of the people who got wearable fitness trackers over the holidays will still be wearing them this coming holiday season? That is the question I've been debating over and over this year. I've been taking the position that an awful lot of the devices will be sitting with the Shake Weight on the treadmill that's serving as a makeshift clothesline in the study. I'm starting to wonder though.

I'll submit that my position may be colored at least in part by the wearables hangover I've been nursing since CES last month. The manic rush to strap sensors onto body parts and embed them into other connected devices at times felt more like parody than plan. It reminded me of the days before the dot com bubble burst -- on a much smaller scale, of course -- when all you needed were a PowerPoint deck and a sock puppet to secure enough funding to run Super Bowl ads. I left Vegas mumbling my own new acronym: IoC. (That's short for Internet of Crap.)

Take, for example, the bottle holder with a built-in pressure sensor that tracks how much water you're taking in so you can enter it into your fitness tracker. (You might just go buy one of those bottles with the volume marks on the side. Just saying.) Or the fashionable bracelet with a built-in UV sensor that alerts you when you need sunscreen. (If you care that much about exposure, you might want to just go ahead and apply sunscreen before you go out and be done with it. Again, just saying.) Or the necklaces with activity alerts that are easier for everyone around you to see. (Here's an idea: Flip the necklace around so that pendant is now on your back. Presto! You've got your own connected Kick me! sign.)

All of this adds color to the nagging question that sits at the heart of this fitness tracker debate: Are wearables really making our lives better? Or are they just solutions in search of problems?

[Wearables raise a whole host of new security issues. Read 20 Security Startups To Watch.]

Certainly, the wearable fitness trackers have a lot more going for them than the dust-gathering Abdominizers ever did. For one thing, they don't just sit in a corner waiting for you to go over and use them. They're on you 24/7. They weave themselves into your daily routine. In doing so, they keep you focused on the simple formula governing weight loss: calories in < calories out.

The people I know who were wearing Fitbits on New Year's Eve are still wearing them now that it's February. That's an encouraging sign that they may be exacting change after all.

I've come across a few other potentially problem-solving wearables as well. My personal favorite is a wristwatch from a company called Connectedevice that's designed, not as a smartwatch, but as a smartphone companion. The watch alerts you to activity on your smartphone so you can leave it in your pocket more often. It's convenient and simple. It's also attractive enough that I'd actually consider wearing it. Most important: the companion keeps your battery-sucking smartphone display dark more often, addressing a problem I wrote about a year ago.

What I'm trying to say is that all of the wearables out there don't fall into the IoC category. There are Amazon.coms sprinkled in amongst the Pet.coms of the wearables age. Maybe -- just maybe -- the wearable fitness trackers are among them. I guess we'll find out for sure this coming December, when we'll see how many of the people who opened them as gifts last December are still wearing them.

NOTE: I'm producing a summit on contextual awareness designed to help marketing execs and other decision-makers turn all the information generated by our smartphones, our wearables, and nearby connected devices into relevant messages that consumers will care about. It's called the MarketsofOne TechSummit, to be held April 10 at the Four Seasons-Silicon Valley. Check it out!

These five higher education CIOs are driving critical changes in an industry ripe for digital disruption. Also in the Chiefs Of The Year issue of InformationWeek: Stop bragging about your Agile processes and make them better. (Free registration required.)

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market strategy and analysis firm focusing on mobile ecosystems and client technologies. You can reach him at mikef@feibustech.com. View Full Bio

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 10:26:06 AM
Re: IoC
The trick will be figuring out a wearable that lets people check their smartphones in situations where it's considered rude to do so. If you'd get stink eye for pulling out your phone, checking a large watch is only marginally less obnoxious. The first company that figures out how to let people see every incoming text and update without anyone around them knowing? Sign me up for the IPO.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
2/6/2014 | 10:15:09 AM
Re: Fitness: Yes. Smartwatches: No.
I keep wondering: Is there enough insight in this fitness data stream to be that interesting? I got a heart rate monitor for a present last year, and I wore it a few times biking, skiing, even shoveling snow, out of curiosity what levels I hit. But after a few times, the numbers were always about the same at the exertion level I was at, no real surprise. So I'll wear it once in awhile to see if anything's changing, or just out of workout boredom, but find there's nothing really to learn after the initial tryout.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 4:36:03 PM
Re: Fitness: Yes. Smartwatches: No.
The early wearables have shown a remarkable lack of attention to the non-tech aspects of the device. Consider the recent Fitbit apology over distributing a device with nickel in it (which can cause an allergic skin rash) or the bulky non-folding, not-very-attractive Google Glass (which is sure to get smaller and less obtrusive in release). Wearables have to work as a tool and as something you'd be seen in. Now if we could just figure out what data is so meaningful that we'd wear a computer to access it.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2014 | 2:30:55 PM
Re: Fitness: Yes. Smartwatches: No.
If people will just do 20 minutes of moderately difficult cardio 3 or 4 times a week, they will have no need for any of this silliness.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 1:45:14 PM
Ripe for Seinfeld
Seeing Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza (Jason Alexander) (and Newman!) going at it again during a Super Bowl commercial reminded me what a field day they could have coming up with material on all these crazy devices.  Hmm...hope Jerry and Larry David are listening.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 12:11:56 PM
Re: IoC
Heh. Tom's droll humor is hard to beat. The thing that gets me about these fitness trackers is I have heard people from IBM (and elsewhere) wax rhapsodic about how wonderful it will be when you get an insurance discount because you walk a lot, according to your wearable gadget. The flip side of that would be a wearable gadget could be used to penalize people. It gets very personal, someone judging your number of steps in a day.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 11:59:02 AM
Re: IoC
Isn't "Internet of Crap" redundant?
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 11:47:24 AM
Fitness: Yes. Smartwatches: No.
I think the wearable fitness devices like the FitBit will have more staying power than something like smartwatches. Why people need or want one still eludes me. Apple's iWatch was rumored quite a while ago, and I have to think there's a reason it has yet to make it to market.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2014 | 10:44:02 AM
Re: IoC
The guys and gals i run with on weekends track every fraction of a mile, every minute, and every fluid ounce consumed. i just run till i'm tired...and then run a few miles more.
MFeibus
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MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2014 | 9:40:11 AM
Re: IoC
The acronym's mine. But kudos to Laurie McLaughlin for the headline. It's all her.
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