Fitness devices that do (just) a bit more

Jun 23 2014, 16:19 IST
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If fitness bands are going to include smartwatch features, they should integrate with more apps. If fitness bands are going to include smartwatch features, they should integrate with more apps.
SummaryWearables track activities, vital statistics and then some. But is it enough to justify their price?

WEARABLE technology is having an identity crisis. Take the LG Lifeband Touch and the Samsung Gear Fit. These new devices, both released this spring, combine smartwatch features like providing the time, fitness tracking and notifications of incoming calls and texts with bigger and more interactive displays. They are gadgets that do a bit of everything but excel at nothing. And they face exceptional consumer skepticism.

The NPD Group, the research firm, reports that one in three consumers has heard of wearable fitness devices. Of the people who know about wearable devices, just 28% intend to buy one. More have heard of smartwatches, said NPD, but a smaller percentage—23%—intend to buy one. Although larger numbers have heard of the Google Glass eyewear device, fewer want to wear one.

And research from Endeavour Partners, a strategy and consulting firm, finds that a third of buyers are abandoning their wearable fitness devices after just six months of use, and more than half of those who own an activity tracker no longer use it.

Are LG and Samsung swimming upstream with their new offerings? It’s hard to argue otherwise. At first blush, the LG Lifeband Touch appears to be the better band of the two. First, it costs $150, while the Gear Fit is $200. Second, the Gear Fit works with only a handful of Samsung devices, like the Galaxy and Note phones and a few Samsung tablets.

Both bands work in conjunction with free phone apps. The LG Fitness app is available for iOS and Android, but the flexibility is misleading. The app functions on an iPhone and looks lovely, but you can’t receive email or text notifications on the band if you’re using iOS. You can receive an incoming-call notification, but there is no caller ID and no way to answer or reject the call from the band.

As a point of comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear allows you to receive email, text and call notifications, as well as social notifications from apps like Twitter and Facebook. You can also answer and reject calls from the band or respond with a canned message.

The LG Fitness app works with some Android phones, but not new devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5. And even on Android, you can receive only text and call notifications, not social updates or even email. On a positive note, you can connect the LG Fitness app with third-party apps like RunKeeper, MapMyFitness and MyFitnessPal, which

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