As another year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on what has been an eventful 2016 for wearable tech. Fitness trackers continue to be at the forefront of the wearable revolution and despite some ups and downs, there were little signs of that changing in 2016.
From new Fitbits, big buyouts and fitness tracker casualties there’s been plenty to talk about. We’ve sifted through the stories from that grabbed the headlines for good and bad reasons. This is the year in fitness trackers.
Fitbit Blazes a trail
The leader of the fitness tracking pack decided to steal a march on its rivals by unveiling the Fitbit Blaze just a a few days into the new year. The fitness watch that’s not a smartwatch (according to Fitbit) signalled a big shift in the company’s approach to its trackers introducing a watch-style look and a colour touchscreen display for the first time.
Read this: The year in smartwatches
The more customisable design also set the tone for Fitbit’s other launches in 2016 with the Alta following just a few months later to coincide with New York Fashion Week before it was joined by the Charge 2 and the Flex 2, Fitbit’s first waterproof fitness tracker, later in the year.
Hey big spenders
Some familiar tech names decided to take a bigger interest in all things wearables. The first big buyout came courtesy of Logitech who spent big money on acquiring Jaybird. The sports headphone company was the first to launch a fitness tracker that measured heart rate variability, one of the new metrics that also appeared in the Fitbit Charge 2. When we spoke to Logitech’s CEO, he told us that some interesting things could happen in this space and is definitely one to stay tuned for in 2017.
Tech throwback Nokia shelled out €170 million to buy Withings picking up the health and fitness hardware company that’s been making sleek fitness tracking hybrid smartwatches and other connected devices including sleep monitors and smart scales. The first product borne out of that buyout was the Withings Steel HR watch, another stylish hybrid smartwatch that suggests Nokia is not going to meddle too much with Withings’ fitness tracker strategy.
Invading pro sports
2016 was the year that fitness trackers and professional sports collided in a really big way. It was fuelled by one NBA’s player decision to take to the court wearing one, which landed him in trouble and with a hefty fine to pay. The tracker in question was the Whoop, a wrist worn device that delivers actionable data in real time related to heart rate and stress. It aims to help prevent injuries and even looks at how travel schedules can affect a player’s freshness for the next game.
Biggest fitness trackers reviews of 2016
Over in MLB, there was a much warmer reception for wearables as the sport’s governing body decided to approve two wearables to be used in game for the first time. The NBA looks like it’s set to change its tune though after it was announced that a committee would now be set up to decide whether trackers should feature during game time.
Challenger to the throne
Fitbit did not have things all its way thanks in part to Garmin after the sport tech giant seemingly launched a new fitness-focused wearable every month. The most important one though was the introduction of the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, which went onto to become our Fitness Tracker of the Year. The update to the Vivosmart HR added one key ingredient that made it a true Fitbit rival and that was built-in GPS. With the steadily improving Garmin Connect platform it scored one of our highest scores handed out on Wareable this year and rightfully walked away with one of our biggest awards.
Just what the hell is going on Jawbone?
It’s a question that it seems we’ve been asking a lot throughout this year as has a host of disgruntled Jawbone customers. We spoke about how things had been very quiet on the Jawbone front and the rumours began to swirl early this year that the UP2 and UP3 makers were in trouble.
But as quickly as rumours of its demise surfaced, they were quickly squashed by the company. It’s now more than a year since we’ve seen new hardware and people are not very happy that they are being kept in the dark. In a long-running battle with Fitbit, the Charge 2 and Flex 2 makers decided to drop one of its patent disputes because it believed Jawbone was in financial turmoil. It seems as if Jawbone is clinging on just for now, but we’re not expecting to hear good news in 2017.
Fitness tracker casualties
Sadly 2016 was the year that we had to say bye bye to some high profile fitness trackers. The first was the Basis Peak, which was recalled due to overheating and burns issues. Shortly after the recall, Intel, who own Basis, decided to shut down Basis’ software support. It also meant its female-focused Ruby fitness tracker would never see the light of day.
The biggest fitness tracker death though goes to the Microsoft Band 2 after the Redmond company confirmed that it was discontinuing the second generation tracker smartwatch hybrid. Despite our issues with the first Bands, the steady stream of software updates appeared to suggest all was okay. There was apparently already a Band 3 in the works. Pour one out for the feature-packed tracker that simply did not get enough love.
A not so Happy Meal
McDonalds provided arguably the biggest fitness tracker gaffe of the year. The folks at Maccy D’s decided to spring a healthy surprise on parents who bought their kids a Happy Meal by swapping the toy for a kid-friendly Step-it fitness tracker as part of an Olympics-related marketing push. Just a few days after being thrown in with the burger and fries, little ones complained of skin irritation issues. One unhappy mother revealed on Facebook that her child was burnt by the tracker after playing with it for just eight minutes. In the end, 32.6 million trackers in total had to be recalled by the fast food giant.
Fitbit’s one last thing moment
Despite a shares slump and having faced production issues getting its new trackers out, Fitbit finished the year on a high by announcing that it was buying big crowdfund earner Pebble for around $40 million. The acquisition signalled the end of Pebble hardware as Fitbit was more interested in the company’s software expertise. It’s already been hinted that this could help Fitbit build its first true smartwatch as mentioned in our Wareable 50 2017, but you can bet fitness tracking will still be at the heart of it whatever that device (or devices) look like.
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