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COTA: Thanks to the latest technology from Nike and others, you can get fit bit by bit

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Jim Cota
Perhaps you’ve noticed more and more people these days wearing odd bracelets emblazoned with small LED lights. Sometimes showing scrolling words about “fuel” levels, these might look like a bit of avant garde jewelry but are really the latest in wearable technology designed to track your every move.

Part of some dystopian future where Big Brother is tracking your movements? Nope (and, besides, BB is already doing that through the cell phone in your pocket). These trackers actually monitor your body movements, like steps and motion—everything you do when you’re not just sitting at your desk or behind the wheel of your car.

Why is this important and why should you care? Three reasons, really.

First, there’s a well-known tenet that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. These trackers make it simple to keep track of your footsteps, stairs climbed and even your sleep.

Second, most of these trackers have a built-in social component that makes it even more compelling to stick to it. Just about anyone who sets a goal and achieves it will tell you there is power in groups. Once you make your goal public, you’re far more likely to see it through.

Finally, when you can see progress and compare to others, it becomes a bit of a game. How many steps will I take this week? Will anyone take more than me? And if you can make it fun, well, that’s just icing on the cake (that you’re probably not going to want to eat.)

The whole “wearable technology” market is just emerging as a segment of the personal computing world, but it’s definitely one to pay attention to (and there are probably some good investing opportunities to be found). Credit Suisse recently declared wearable tech is already a $5 billion market that could jump to $30 billion in the next few years.

Already in the game are Nike (www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/nikeplus-fuelband), Withings (withings.com), FitBit (fitbit.com), Jawbone (jawbone.com/up) and others. Some, like Withings, are modern marvels with Wi-Fi-enabled scales that sense your weight, body fat percentage, body mass index, standing heart rate and indoor air quality, then wirelessly sync the data to your phone. In fact, most of these devices have either smartphone or desktop support (or both), and there are a variety of third-party applications that can pull data together in one convenient spot.

To no surprise, each of the alternatives offers unique advantages. The best-looking, the Nike Fuel band, includes some nice features, such as a cool LED display that doubles as a watch. Nike’s downside? The Fuel records activity in “NikeFuel” doesn’t seem to correlate directly with calories, the unit of measure people readily understand.

After trying several, the FitBit tracker seems to be the biggest hit in my office. Costing about $100, it can be worn on the wrist, attached to your clothes, or dropped in a pocket. It easily tracks the number of steps you take, and the pocket version also track floors climbed. The wristband tracks your sleep and wakes you by silently vibrating at your optimal time. Combined with the corresponding smartphone (or iPad) application, all the FitBit trackers automatically monitor your activity level, convert your steps to calories, and make suggestions for how to improve your burn to achieve your stated goals.

Some of my office-mates are going a step further and tracking calorie intake as well. This is a bit more complicated and slightly more time-consuming, since each meal has to be entered into the system. But once you’ve added a food (or an entire meal), it’s easier to report the second time.

In other words, depending on how varied your eating habits are, you might find you have most of your standard food choices entered in just a few weeks. Trust me, when you have better clarity on what you’re eating (and how hard it is to burn those calories), you begin making different choices.

It’s eye-opening. And stomach-shrinking.•

__________

Cota is president and co-founder of Rare Bird Inc., a marketing communications firm specializing in Internet application development. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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