At first I thought it would be fun to count the number of wearable heart monitors at CES. I’ve since come to regret that decision. There are fitness bands, smart watches, and clever headphones everywhere – even smart socks
. It often happens that the only way to tell whether a device can measure your pulse is to ask a company representative. That’s when you get the sales pitch, and if you’re really lucky, the demonstration.
Some of these products simply display your heart rate. Others draw a graph. A few, like the Zensorium Tinké – pronounced ‘tink’, I was told, and I didn’t argue the point – go so far as to give you a report card. It seems that as a general rule, the smarter a device is, the more judgmental it will be.
I stopped counting at 28. Actually, I stopped counting before that, when I ran out of room for brochures. A Web search informed me about the Heart Rate Monitor earphones
(KRX:066570), and the pulse-measuring mattress
from Select Comfort. Also showing off devices are Intel
(NASDAQ:GRMN), and a host of smaller companies.
A pile of brochures for heart monitors at CES 2014.
Smart blood-sugar meters, on the other hand, are few and far between. I did see some wireless blood pressure monitors, but most of the devices on the show floor seem catered to cardiophobes and technophiles rather than people with serious health issues.
The same could be said for fitness devices. There’s an abundance of pedometers and calorie counters (and of course, heart rate monitors) on display, often paired with smartphone apps that deliver data and analytics. They’ll help you get into shape, or at least that’s the claim; but how many people are serious enough about exercising to make a science project out of it?
At Toshiba's booth, a wrist watch that syncs with a heart monitor.
Those who can really benefit from the quantified self are professional athletes and serious amateurs looking for an edge. Zepp Labs designs sensors that mount to baseball bats, tennis rackets, and golf clubs. If you want to improve your swing, you can use the accompanying app to analyze your technique, and compare it with that of your favorite pro. Instabeat is a heads-up monitor for swimmers that displays their heart rate. I’m not sure whether that’s important or not, but the general idea seems promising: solve a big problem for a few people – who will be willing to pay for a solution – rather than some little problem that affects everyone but no one really cares about.
Of course, this is the Consumer Electronics Show, so a mass-market approach is to be expected. The problem is that "smart" technology isn’t new anymore, and we’ve likely reached the point of diminishing returns when heart-rate monitors become a hot item. It may be that the most exciting developments now lie in specialized products and niche markets. What if we’re entering the age of the Next Small Thing?
Live From CES: Your Next Audi Will Be Obsolete in Two Years
International CES: Go West, Young Huawei
CES: Intel Plays Well With Others, Especially the Ultra-Mobile
No positions in stocks mentioned.