Build us the ultimate fitness tracker. And make it quick. Because the form is quickly becoming solidified under the stewardship mainly of Fitbit. It goes on your wrist. It counts steps and distance and calories and sometimes VO2 Max.
But are we done and dusted with the basic idea? Or is there room for improvement? The team has been scratching its heads trying to decide what we really want out of a piece of technology designed to track fitness. Here are a few of our thoughts, some more helpful than others. Please do add yours in the comments below.
Who has come closest to greatness? Has anything approached the ideal form of a fitness tracker that can grace gadget hall of fames for years to come? We consider what's come closest out of the currently available devices.
Paul Lamkin – Editor in Chief
The ultimate fitness tracker should be just that – the ultimate 'fitness' tracker. Not a step counter, not a heart rate monitor, not a device that buzzes when I've been sitting still for an hour. I want it to track how fit I actually am. To actually track my fitness. I want it to do medical-grade analysis of my vitals so as I know exactly where I am, fitness-wise, at all times.
As a rule fitness is assessed in four key areas – aerobic fitness, flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and body composition. Give me a device that can read my biometrics well enough to tell me how I'm faring in all of those categories (along with an app that suggests personalised improvements) and I'm sold.
Right now, that looks to be something along the lines of Verily's Study Watch. What was once Google Life Sciences has made it very clear that its beautifully simple yet powerful, E Ink health monitoring watch is not for sale, though. Ouch, that hurts.
Michael Sawh – Editor
A great fitness tracker, in my eyes, is something that's not only going to accurately capture key biometric data, but also help me make sense of that data. From a design perspective, I'd take the waterproofing, GPS and heart rate tracking skills from the TomTom Spark 3 sports watch and put them into a body that's more of a stylish hybrid smartwatch. I'd even take it inside a pair of smart earbuds, simply because I can't work out without music.
Despite Jawbone's hardware disasters, I still have a soft spot for the software. It struck a good balance between making the data easy to digest and offering useful insights. So a version of that mixed in with the social features of Strava and the UI of Under Armour's Record app would help make the ideal companion app solution.
For that more actionable push, I'd like to see the kind of real-time audio coaching that I've already experienced with the Lumo Run and the Moov Now. It nags, but it nags in a way that makes you want to push yourself harder to get fitter. Then there's the recovery factor and knowing when to rest, which would be covered by heart rate variability and hydration monitoring, which I still feel will be one of the big metrics that Fitbit, Apple and the rest will be tapping into soon.
Sophie Charara – Features editor
Let's get real. The perfect fitness tracker for me is more of an all-round, lifestyle device, not nearly as hardcore as some here. I think a good tracker for women like me is first of all modular – so that you can wear it as a bracelet, necklace, ring, badge etc. If it was small enough, you could even attach it behind your ear with an earbud accessory for running. And it has to blend in – so if it does have a screen (and it doesn't have to), as per my ideal smartwatch, this has to be some sort of transparent OLED.
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As for features, a biggie, and something of a Holy Grail, is that I don't just want to know how many calories I'm burning, I want the whole picture. So I want to know how many calories I've consumed so far that day (via some newfangled blood glucose monitoring tech that HealBe and others claim to have already perfected). I want to know how much sleep I got last night, sure, but also what my stress levels are, and how much natural light – and thus Vitamin D – I've been getting, a la Lys, one of our startups to watch.
We've had a few false starts on contextual suggestions, but I remember Olio Devices promising that its AI assistant would be able to make recommendations about how and when to exercise, based on your calendar. While we're at it, this contextual cat might as well give me recipe suggestions based on my day via the smartphone app too. Easy, then.
Hugh Langley – US editor
For me, the ultimate fitness tracker isn't a fitness tracker at all, but a health tracker. That's because these trackers won't just give us our heart rate variability and resting heart rate, but offer a complete bio-status update when we want it. I don't care if I took 500 more steps than I did yesterday; I do care about my current body fat (as the TomTom Touch has tried to cover), my blood pressure, how much water I need to drink, and why I feel more stressed than usual. I don't want to know how many hours and minutes I slept last night; I want to know why it wasn't enough, how it's affecting my performance today, and how I can do better tonight. I want to know why that last cup of coffee was a mistake, and why I need to watch my glucose levels. Also, the moon on a stick if you have one.
But seriously, I don't think I'm being too ambitious here. Over time, we'll see more (accurate) biometrics sensors getting crammed into trackers, and we'll look back on the simple times of basic step monitors and laugh heartily into our protein shakes. Like all my colleagues, I want something that's going to paint the full picture, and for me that means going beyond "fitness" and doing things that are currently left up to our doctors. Healthcare and consumer tech are on a collision course, and the result, I hope, will be my ideal fitness tracker. For the day-to-day, I vote we ditch step tracking altogether and opt for other made-up measurements, like Apple's Activity Rings.
As for how I want it to look, well, I'd ideally like this to be combined into a smartwatch, as that eliminates the need for two devices. If it's a standalone tracker though, I'd want something sleek and simple, but with a small display for throwing up the vital biometric updates. I really dig the design of the Fitbit Alta HR, so something like that would be great. Ultimately though, I think everything is heading towards our heads, and a hearable that can offer all of the aforementioned biometrics and play my tunes would suit me down to the ground.
Husain Sumra – US Reporter
For me, the ultimate fitness tracker firstly needs to be a device that I want to wear at all times. If it's going to keep track of my fitness and health, I want it to be always there, like a little doctor desperately clinging to my wrist, once in a while wildly waving his or her arms around to tell me I'm not doing so hot.
Yeah, I'm gonna need my ultimate fitness tracker that won't just tell me my metrics – whether they be something as small as steps and heart rate, or as big as glucose or blood pressure – I want it to tell me what to do about them. I'm no medical expert, and I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, so my ultimate fitness tracker needs to come with the ultimate fitness software, telling me exactly what to do to fix my situation.
More than any of that, what I really want in a fitness tracker is something that can track the other side of the fitness equation: diet. It's a bit of a moonshot, but I'm after a device that can track my diet automatically and tell me how to improve, therefore helping improve my fitness by fueling my body with good food.
On top of all this, my ultimate fitness tracker needs to slot seamlessly into my lifestyle and chosen ecosystem. So, what I'm dreaming would be the beautiful offspring of a Verily Study Watch and Apple Watch Series 2. I'd get my wrist-mounted doctor, gently telling me that I really do need to get 30 minutes of exercise a day, alongside my undying need to constantly mix and match the latest and most fashionable bands for everyday use.
Conor Allison – Reporter
For me, the ultimate fitness tracker will be the device that takes data and transforms it into a big picture that I can act upon. I'm not talking about something that tracks my steps perfectly and tells me if I'm in line with the average for my height and weight, either.
I want a device that can read every aspect of my health – so everything from injury and illness to cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength – and then beam this into a manageable platform with tips and advice. Heck, even make up a new glanceable metric offering a 0–100 health score, if makes things easier to digest.
As for its design, I'm not as demanding, but there are still areas that the perfect device should tick. Everybody wants something that's sleek and stylish, but making this into a versatile and customisable device that can be worn in a number of different ways is key. Until someone out there magics up this creation, I'll just continue dismissing those reminders to move and, well, breathe.
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