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Wearable Technology: What's the Point?

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Wearables. Something that everyone is touting as the next big thing.

At least that’s according to Gartner’s latest shipments forecast for the worldwide wearable electronic fitness device market.

One thing that was quite surprising about the figures is the vast number of devices already out in the marketplace.

Having been competing (I use the word loosely!) in triathlon for just short of 20 years, I know many sports watch users.

But the number of ‘smart wristbands’ is almost double the number of sport watches.

Where are they all? Have they been consigned to the drawer full of old mobiles, obsolete chargers, broken headphones and IKEA allen keys? Or are they just so discrete that you never notice anyone wearing one?

Does anyone still count the number of steps they take in a day?

The Gartner figures certainly predict the demise of the smart wristband but they also suggest an explosion in so-called ‘smart garments’.

Smart doesn’t refer to the technical fabrics that help sports people stay cool in warm conditions.

It’s all about sensors woven into the garment transmitting data to a smartphone via Bluetooth.

That’s all very well if you’re a professional athlete and receive a limitless supply of kit but I’m not sure many people would have the budget to spend on all the kit they’d need to avoid having to wash it between every visit to the gym.

And then there’s also the question of fashion. Admittedly not something that I’m too worried about myself.

Monitoring heart rate will apparently remain the primary use and that’s already possible with a chest strap – if you don’t mind as a bloke looking like you’re wearing a bra – or clever sensors that measure how your pulse subtly changes the colour of your skin.

It seems the big change will be in the increasing use of this kind of technology in the health sector rather than just for fitness, and tracking your heart rate could be the starting point for managing stress.

In the medical world, wearable technology could be really significant if it can provide early warning indicators for a variety of conditions and transmit the data to alert those who are in a position to take action.

I occasionally cycle with a diabetic friend and it’s pretty stressful when you’re continuously concerned about whether he’s managed his insulin levels correctly to get home without collapsing.

As with everything in the world of technology there’s also the question of data.

We’re already capturing huge amounts of information and happily uploading it to websites that track activity and fitness. In fact, it’s quite surprising that the sport nutrition companies aren’t analysing exercise patterns and energy requirements and creating tailored products to help improve performance, achieve weight loss or whatever the individual goal happens to be.

However, if the data relates to our medical history then security become a major issue especially given existing concerns around the proliferation of devices that make up the internet of things.

But that’s not the only issue surrounding data. Is there a risk that we’ll capture all of this information and just not know what to do with it?

I’ll leave that one for a future post!

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