Polar: Wrist-based optical heart rate tracking wearable coming soon

Polar to follow Garmin's lead by putting bpm metrics on its wearables
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Polar has confirmed it is working on a new low-price fitness wearable, with a built-in optical heart rate monitor, aimed at gym goers.

Speaking exclusively to Wareable, Polar's UK MD Malcolm Douglas said the company's fitness trackers will finally join the optical heart rate (OHR) trend, but that accuracy remains paramount to the product. The new products will be aimed at consumers rather than elite athletes.

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According to Douglas, though, there is a good reason for Polar's delay in joining the trend. "We haven't moved on because it wasn't, in our case, universally accepted by everyone as a successful alternative to what we already have," he said.

However, Douglas and his team do recognise there's a growing demand for strap-free tracking.

"Clearly there are a lot of athletes, a lot of women for instance, who would say that it's uncomfortable to wear a chest strap and there's an image of this optical heart rate idea that it's easier or more comfortable and I think it's a trend."

Polar has been steadfast in its support of the much maligned chest strap. While optical heart rate offers the convenience of one do-it-all device, it's not as accurate as the chest strap technology you'll find in products like the Polar H7 that work in a similar way to a medical-grade ECG machine.

Incorporating OHR into its product line up has therefore been tricky for Polar, a company with one of the industry's strongest reputations for accuracy. Understandably it has been in no hurry to adopt technology that might bring that reputation into question.

However, with Garmin recently launching the Forerunner 225, its first GPS running watch with built-in wrist heart rate sensors using Mio tech, pretty much all of Polar's main rivals now have an OHR offering. And with a lot of newcomers like Mio, Adidas, TomTom and Apple lacing up to join the race, the pressure has been growing for Polar to follow suit.

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"Just like GPS was a trend, just like heart rate was a trend and just like sleep tracking was a trend. I think this (OHR) may well become a trend but from our point of view it will all come down to how accurate it is," explained Douglas.

"I'm not sure it's going to get into professional sport but it depends. It'll have to become more accurate if that's what people want but you can see products are coming into the marketplace but at a very slow pace. And we're planning one but it'll be a retail product, it won't be a professional sports product at this stage."

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So what kind of product will we see hitting the shelves? Well it won't be a Polar V800 sporting an OHR sensor.

"Maybe not as sophisticated as that." says Douglas. "But it'll be a lower price product, and it'll be a low end fitness product for those people that just want to go to the gym. But it will develop and I've no doubt in time it'll become more sophisticated. But I think it's one of those development things that we'll have to see."

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