Lauren Goode

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At CES, Expect More Gadgets Telling You to Get Off the Couch

If your resolutions for the new year include health and fitness goals, several new products showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in January just might help you get there.

Two of the 25 TechZones on the showroom floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center will be geared specifically toward digital health, with more than 171 exhibitors showcasing products as part of the Digital Health and Fitness category.

Basis B1 Band

One notable device attendees will see is the Basis B1 band, which offers an alternative to accelerometer-based fitness products. The band is a water-resistant wristband that uses multiple sensors to calculate calories burned, amount of physical activity and sleep patterns. It also sports Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensors that track perspiration to measure body temperature alongside ambient temperature.

In addition to showing off the B1 band at CES, Basis CEO Jef Holove said the company plans to demo a Web dashboard that works with the USB-compatible band to help users track the activity data they upload.

The cost of the Basis B1 band, which is expected to launch in early 2012, is still to be determined.

Another company, called Striiv, will showcase a $99 keychain-friendly device meant to track a user’s every movement; the idea is to motivate individuals by using activity-based games and creating challenges based on real-world distances, like crossing the Grand Canyon. The Striiv device hit the market this past October.

Among the other health-related products to be featured at the CES 2012 Sports and Fitness TechZone are waterproof MP3 players, armbands, heart monitors, high-tech goggles, GPS-enabled cameras and the integration of gesture-recognition technology into games for fitness and sports.

According to a recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the organization that runs CES, the sports and fitness category is a $70 billion annual business in the U.S. alone.

The growing mobile phone market and explosion of mobile apps has contributed to the growth of the digital health market as well. A recent ABI Research report says the market for sports and fitness apps is expected to reach $400 million by 2016, across more than one billion annual health-related app downloads.

Health care companies have also been getting into the app arena. United Health Group plans to show off mobile applications at CES 2012 for managing health care accounts, tracking prescriptions and creating health goals. Aetna already has mobile apps for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry; Blue Cross and Blue Shield introduced an app for iOS devices earlier this year.

The development of these mobile apps, as well as lightweight wearable devices such as the popular FitBit, opens up a new category of products that are less expensive — and in some cases less cumbersome — than a traditional, bulky fitness watch or a heart-rate monitor that straps around the chest. In many cases, new fitness products come with analytical Web services, and aim to go beyond the standard pedometer or accelerometer to offer a comprehensive look at activity and health.

But the marriage of health and fitness data applications with actual hardware can be a difficult one in terms of product development. Case in point: The Jawbone UP wristband.

Jawbone UP

Jawbone, a maker of slick audio products, recently made its first foray into the fitness market with the $99 dollar Jawbone UP. A few weeks after the launch of the UP, which tracks user activity and plugs directly into the iPhone to sync the data, user complaints began to trickle in. Some cited battery issues, syncing problems and poor design. The company put out an apology, instituted a no-questions-asked return policy and has temporarily halted production of the device.

Jawbone declined to comment on when the company will resume production of the UP device, but Travis Bogard, Jawbone’s Vice President of Product Management & Strategy, issued a statement saying, “The passionate response to UP has been phenomenal — and this is just the beginning. We’re extremely committed to the category and we’re going to keep improving the UP product until we realize the powerful vision of what this category can be.”

Basis’s Holove concurred that fitness devices that look to eliminate straps and wires while still performing multiple tasks can be complicated products, and said part of the reason the Basis band isn’t officially launching at CES is because the company is focused on “getting it right.”

“We don’t want to repeat any lessons learned in the industry recently. We’ve redoubled our testing plans now,” Holove said.

Holove says he believes the initial excitement over the Jawbone UP is evidence of growing consumer demand for wearable health-and-fitness devices. He also predicts that, in the near future, more corporations will begin to institute health-incentive programs, like Virgin’s HealthMiles, which could involve the mass distribution of health monitors. Through Virgin HealthMiles’s Pay-For-Prevention program, companies encourage employees to use a GoZone tracker and record their daily activities for potential rewards.

But for now, Holove says, the focus is still on marketing directly to the consumer when it comes to fitness and health. ”It’s no mystery that we need to be healthier. Health care costs are rising while health is declining, so we’re going directly to the customer and saying, here’s what you can do about that.”

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