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11/24/2014
08:36 AM
Alison Diana
Alison Diana
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Fitness Trackers: Holiday Gift Guide

Wearable fitness devices top many holiday lists this year. Here's how to choose the right one.
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As the holidays approach, the number of shopping days is dwindling -- and this year, fitness devices top many gift givers' lists.

Buoyed by lower gas prices and slightly more consumer confidence, holiday spending is expected to increase between 4.5% and 5% this year over 2013, Deloitte reports. And a sizable percentage of the $986 billion Americans spend on gifts will go toward fitness trackers. In fact, 10% of shoppers will purchase fitness trackers as gifts this year, and 8% plan to buy a smartwatch, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

"Expect to see growing consumer awareness and interest in emerging tech categories, including health and fitness technology, as industry giants have entered the playing field," Steve Koenig, CEA director of industry analysis, said in a press release. "These products will make their first big splash this holiday season, setting up 2015 as a breakout year for emerging segments like smartwatches and smart home technologies."

One of the biggest contenders -- the Apple Watch -- isn't even on the market yet, but that doesn't mean some gift buyers won't place IOUs in stockings. Apple's long-anticipated smartwatch is slated for release in early 2015. Some aficionados might rather wait for a new Apple product than use another vendor's device, but that's not likely to be a common occurrence this holiday season.

With so many fitness trackers now available, the challenge is choosing the most appropriate device. Options range in price from $12 (that's right, $12) to more than $500. But often you get what you pay for. Will you need to break the budget to buy the best of the bunch for your loved one?

Most fitness devices offer similar capabilities: They track steps, calories, and sleep. Some developers differentiate their devices through software, providing more in-depth analysis that could be helpful to athletes or users with chronic health conditions. Some products include a strap; others use clips that attach to belt loops, shoelaces, or purses. For fashion-minded users, some device makers offer an array of strap designs or color choices. Then there are devices that target athletes who prefer a specific activity, such as biking or swimming.

Before you decide on a specific device, it's also important to investigate the accompanying software. Learn how each device integrates with hardware and how it plays with other applications the recipient may already use. Fitness device vendors know that users want to tap into the many health and fitness apps available to iOS and Android devices. By 2015, 500 million people worldwide are expected to use health apps -- and device makers don't want to be left out.

Do you?

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 9:14:43 AM
Hate to rain on the parade, but...
I think "fitness" trackers that you wear continuously are a waste of time and are doomed to end up in a drawer. Exercise, in my mind, is something that means you are elevating you heart rate for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Counting footsteps to go fetch the newspaper or a beer from the refrigerator shouldn't be counted as exercise. Do yourself a favor and measure the extraordinary effort, not the ordinary, day-to-day moving about. You'll find that the ordinary is quite the same, dull stuff, and sooner or later that device is going to end up in a drawer.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 9:29:08 AM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
Maybe, but I've seen a few friends who weren't interested in exercising, per se, improve their health in part because they now wear these bands or clip-on trackers. Sure, tracking steps around the house to do laundry or around the office may not be the same as running five miles, but movement IS movement -- and if tracking steps encourages the wearer to move a little more each day, then surely that's a good thing?

If somebody doesn't move much pre-fitness band and then -- because of competition with themselves, gameification, or some other incentive -- starts walking a bit more (whether it's to get the paper, a beer, a glass of milk, or whatever...), then surely it's a good thing.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 12:04:01 PM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
Both Doug and Alison make good points about fitness trackers. On one hand, they're a great motivator to get you moving more. Obviously walking is not at the level of running or bike or stairmaster for cardio exercise, but it's still exercise. It's movement and it burns calories. But to Doug's point, there's a tendency for people to hit their step and calorie goals by just walking, and then assume it's Ok not to do any of the rigorous, high heart rate, endorphone-filled workouts. Sorry, you still have to do that hard stuff folks if you want to keep the weight down and truly be fit. But fitness trackers are an excellent gateway device to go from sitting to walking, and then maybe walking to running.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 9:29:14 AM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
@D. Henschen machines in gyms do usually offer feedback on heartrate, calories burned, etc., though if you take an aerobics class, you wouldn't get the same data. I suppose the wearables can be useful for that. As for the ordinary steps, there is some value to that over staying glued in one place. It's possible wearables encourage people to take the stairs rather than the elevator, for example, and all those little bits do help. They won't accomplish major weight loss, but they can prevent extra weight from creeping on -- so long as you don't lose the benefits by eating a daily donut.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
11/24/2014 | 9:58:21 AM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
While I'd agree totally that without making an effort to strain yourself, it's not really exercise, activity trackers can help a lot with that, especially if you're not the kind of person that likes to use the gym. If you run outdoors, there is no machine to track your stats, so keeping an eye on the time taken, distance run can be a real boon.

Personally I'm dubious about the usefulness of heart rate data, as if it isn't medically accurate (which a lot of trackers aren't) then it's a little redundant, but there is certainly some positives to these sorts of trackers.

My recommendation would be to start cheap and if you're still using it in three months, upgrade. 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 10:39:32 AM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
Runners have had endless choices of GPS and pedometer-style trackers for years. I suppose some of these new "fitness" trackers could be worn while participating in focused, sustained activities such as basketball, aerobics, workouts at the gym, or even walking the dog -- all of which would elevate your heart rate and breathing for at least 20 minutes. I'll also admid that having a device that offers proof and a reminder that you have been sitting on your duff all day can't be bad.

I'm just saying that movement does not equal excercise. You've heard of empty calories, right? Think of normal, day-to-day activity as empty calories burned. You burn calories just sitting there breathing, but that won't make you fit.

 
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 12:02:12 PM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
Part of the point is also to give credit for taking the stairs rather than the elevator and looking for other ways of integrating activity into your daily life, even on a day when you didn't make it to the gym. (for me, that would be every day)
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 12:14:35 PM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
Also, fitness trackers can indirectly motivate you to jog. Let's face it, reaching 10,000 steps and 5 miles of movement a day is not easy to do by just walking. It takes too long and you can only walk around so much. But if you go jog for 30 minutes, you'll quickly hit all your goals for the day (or close to it) and be done with it.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 12:55:32 PM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
I think that's a good recommendation, @Whoopty. I saw at least one study that found most users put these devices in drawers after six months, so why spend several hundred dollars if that's the case? But if you do find it useful, then you might find one with more sophisticated features and better analytics software even better!
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 3:19:58 PM
Re: Hate to rain on the parade, but...
At least it won't end up a clothes drying/storage device as so many treadmills do ? :)
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 12:00:04 PM
Not just wristbands
I thought the bike helmet and the baseball cap were particularly interesting as variations on the theme.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 12:53:02 PM
Re: Not just wristbands
I liked those, too, Dave. Adding different formats could encourage new users to don fitness trackers, especially if they enjoy a sport like biking, where the tracker is part of a real helmet. 
DAVIDINIL
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DAVIDINIL,
User Rank: Strategist
11/24/2014 | 2:45:05 PM
Wristband Problems Fixed?
The biggest complaint by far from early adopters of these gadgets, was the wristbands.  They were terrible.  The band would easily come unsnapped.  Users would come home from a workout to find that they no longer were wearing their fitness tracker and now could not find it.  Most users loved the devices but many ended up losing them due to the band problem. 

From looking at the pictures, it does not appear that this has been fixed in many of the models.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/24/2014 | 4:47:15 PM
Re: Wristband Problems Fixed?
I'd heard those complaints about activity wristbands too -- they develop cracks in them, they snap off when you're exercising, they give you wrist rash, etc. But I've had a Fitbit Flex for a couple months, and I've had zero problems. The band is very comfortable and never comes unsnapped. I forget I'm wearing it most of the time.
DAVIDINIL
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DAVIDINIL,
User Rank: Strategist
11/24/2014 | 5:36:27 PM
Re: Wristband Problems Fixed?
Good to know.  Thx for chiming in
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
11/24/2014 | 8:25:19 PM
Re: Wristband Problems Fixed?
@Davidinil - I'm guessing that's why they started making the pendant ones you can wear around your neck on a necklace.  I'm not sure if she's the only one to do it but Tori Burch designed a few that look like actual jewelry, but are fitbits in disguise.  
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