Will the arrival of smart biometric headphones spell “The End” for wrist-worn fitness trackers?

As with many new products and genres, wearable technology arrived with a torrent of uncertainty, with skeptics saying it would likely be a short-lived trend. A few years on though, the skepticism has faded and consumers are embracing idea of strapping gadgets to their bodies.

So far, it’s health and fitness that’s the main driving force behind wearable tech. The fitness tracking trend, otherwise known as the quantified self, is now reaching a wide range of people, because you don’t necessarily need to be a fitness enthusiast to benefit from it.

Fitness trackers paired with their companion smartphone apps provide information such as how many steps you take over the course of a day, how many calories you burn while walking the dog, and how many times you tossed and turned during the night.

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These three functions; step counting, calorie output and sleep monitoring are the main components of the quantified self. However, more advanced fitness trackers exist that are designed for fitness enthusiasts who may prefer to train using heart rate zones, or lifting weights at the gym, doing yoga, running, and other sports and exercises. The question here is; are contemporary wrist-worn fitness trackers the most suitable wearable solution?

Smart clothing and footwear capable of monitoring biometrics spring to mind as a suitable replacement for wrist-worn fitness trackers, but we’re still a few years away from that happening on major scale.

The biggest and most immediate rival to contemporary trackers are smart biometric earphones.

Also known as Hearables, smart earphones designed for the fitness environment are capable of monitoring many of the same biometrics as their wrist-worn cousins, but with the added advantages of music playback, real-time audio feedback and hands-free phone calls. Some smart earphones also offer heart rate tracking with accuracy on par with wrist-worn devices. The first biometric headphones to really take off were the Jabra Sport Pulse back in 2014.

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At my local gym, a very large community gym owned by Everybody Active; around six or seven out of ten people wear earphones while they’re working out. When it comes to the sport of running, it’s pretty rare to see a somebody who isn’t wearing earphones, unless they’re in groups.

The point is; earphones, mainly earbuds are undoubtedly the fitness gadget of choice. Generally, fitness goers are taking their earphones to the gym or for a run so they can listen to music. Nowadays, with sporty hearables offering fitness tracking as well, what chance do wrist-worn trackers stand of surviving?

Although I might have made the future of fitness from the wrist sound pretty bleak over the last few paragraphs, there’s actually an abundance of reasons why they will survive the hearables onslaught.

For instance, there are plenty of outdoor activities to be enjoyed to the fullest with only the sound of nature; such as hiking in a beautiful location, tracking your steps around a golf course of a sunny day, and other peaceful activities such as paddleboarding, canoeing and lots more.

Road cycling is another activity more suitable to wrist-worn trackers. Despite many earphones being designed so you can hear ambient noise from the world around you, a great percentage of your hearing is still obstructed. For the obvious reason that cycling among traffic could potentially end your life if you make one wrong move; having full-use of your second sense (hearing) is a no-brainer. Of course, there’s bone conduction (BCT) earphones, but that’s a story for another day.

Wearing your tracker on your wrist is more suitable for working out at home. Lets say you want to put your new surround sound home entertainment system to good use while grinding to your Ashley Borden fitness DVD; wearing earphones just isn’t going to make sense.

Monitoring sleep quality has become an essential part of the fitness tracking package, and a silent (vibrating) alarm is quite a mellow way to be woken up in the morning; both features offered by most wrist-worn trackers. No matter how comfortable smart earphones are, they could even be made of feathers, but they will never be ideal for monitoring a night’s z’s.

Finally, if you like to stay sociable while you’re working out around others, or getting active with friends; wrist-worn fitness trackers are more suitable, for the obvious reason of communication. Another thing I have noticed at my local gym, is that the six or seven out of ten people who wear earphones, engage in six or seven out ten less conversations than the people who don’t wear them. The reason I go to the gym is to workout, but it’s also good to chat, plus I’ve learned a lot of new exercises and techniques by chatting to others in the gym.

So there you have it; a few examples why wrist-worn fitness trackers will survive the competition brought about by their ear-based rivals.

 

 

 

 

 

Top Image / Jabra