Demand for wearable fitness technology and exercise-related gadgets is expected to quadruple in 2014, according to a new study published by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

“Consumer interest in purchasing dedicated wearable fitness devices in the next 12 months quadrupled to 13 percent in 2013, from just three percent in 2012, making it the largest year-over-year increase for any category of fitness device,” states the report.  “Dedicated wearable fitness devices also tripled in ownership from 2012 (3 percent) to 2013 (9 percent).  These devices experienced the largest gain in purchase intent (10 percentage points) compared to 2012, more than quadrupling from three percent in 2012.”

The association published its findings earlier this week at the mHealth Summit in Washington D.C.

The Nike+ FuelBand (Credit: Commons/Flickr)
The Nike+ FuelBand (Credit: Commons/Flickr)

Research Findings in Wearable Fitness Technology

Here are a few of the findings from the CEA research:

  • Three quarters of online U.S. consumers (75 percent) now say they own a fitness technology product, up from 61 percent in 2012.
  • Pedometers are the most popular fitness device owned by consumers (37 percent), followed by fitness video games (26 percent) and portable blood pressure monitors (21 percent).
  • Nine percent of online U.S. adults plan to buy a smart watch in the coming year.
  • Revenues in the U.S. are estimated to reach $854 million in 2013, an increase of 32 percent over the prior year.  CEA expects revenue to surpass $1 billion in 2014, a 37 percent increase over 2013.

Growing Diversity of Exercise Technology

Consumer interest in exercise is a recent phenomenon.  Last year, just 3 percent of respondents said they were interested in purchasing a fitness device.  In 2013, that number jumped to 13 percent.

Fitness technology includes wearable devices, apps, exercise video games and calories trackers.  According to CEA, consumers are interested in tracking statistics like heart rate (95 percent), calories burned (94 percent) and steps taken (92 percent).

On mobile, fitness apps have seen millions of downloads to help enthusiasts track their health goals.

In December 2013, the makers of Guitar Hero introduced Goji Play into the market, creating a segment many analysts refer to as “fitness gaming”.  The technology lets people use controllers, activity sensors and iPhones or iPads to turn treadmills and exercise bikes into gaming devices.

Evolution of Fitness Technology

Workout routines have seen quite an evolution since dumbbells and stretch ropes graced gyms in in the 1970s and 80s – and popularized by protein shake-chugging meatheads.  In the past couple of decades, the fitness movement was dominated by intense workouts and dance-related themes such as Focus T25, Insanity, Tae Bo, Zumba and hip hop dance sessions at neighborhood studios.

The fitness movement also helped to transform the nutritional and dietary supplements into a multi-billion powerhouse.  In so doing, the trend incentivized the drink business (such as soda manufacturers) into offering athletics-related thirst quenchers (think Gatorade and Powerade).

Here are the top three reasons people gave for using their wearable fitness devices:

  • Motivation (52 percent)
  • Monitoring the progress of exercise goals (47 percent)
  • Gauging levels of physical activity or intensity (46 percent)

Prior to the digital age, people simply looked in the mirror or stepped on the scales to monitor the progress of their fitness goals.

Wearable Gadgets

Exercise gadgets are coinciding with the growing trend of wearable technology such as Google Glass and Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch.  The miniaturization of electronics has given tech devices a growing ability to accompany a person most hours of the day.

Global brands have also – pardon the pun – put their muscle into the wearable movement.  Nike (see the Nike+ FuelBand SE) was one of the pioneers in incorporating monitoring technology into running shoes, wristbands, and gym attire.

Given the trend of miniaturization, it’s no surprise – such as when companies began to sell consumers energy drinks and thirst-quenching electrolytes – that gadgets are being adapted for fitness purposes.

“CEA projects that the market for dedicated wearable fitness devices like body monitors and pedometers will continue to expand for the foreseeable future as more consumers become aware of these devices and an array of new products enter the market,” said Kevin Tillmann, senior research analyst, CEA.

Of course, if you want to avoid all this cost – it is after all a bad economy – just turn sideways and look in the mirror.