Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Want to lose weight? Improve your cardio? Lower your blood pressure? Then don’t buy a fitness tracker. In fact, some experts claim they can “do more harm than good”. Wondering why you might have wasted money on yours? Read on…

 

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Now let’s just get one thing straight before we continue. I actually use a variety of wearable devices. I have an Apple watch which measures my daily activity, I use the Nike+ app when I go running and I use a Garmin & Strava for cycling. And it seems that I’m not alone with an estimated 20% of Americans wearing some form of tracker and around 3 million being sold in the UK each year. People use them in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Personally I want to monitor my performance and am fascinated with the data that they produce (I know, I’m a nerd). Consequently I love them all, so before you launch into a tirade along the lines of ‘this guy hates Fitbits’ in the comments section please remember not to shoot the messenger…

Now then, why have the boffins got such a downer on trackers? Well firstly, they pour scorn on the whole notion of the 10,000 steps. It seems that this has no basis in any robust scientific research. According to Dr Greg Hager who is a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University:

  “Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number”

In fairness, that hardly seems very scientific. Unless you are an average Japanese man who is still living in 1960. A relatively small sample size, I’m guessing.

Just last week Prof. Hager pointed out that we we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ solution and every individual needs a bespoke fitness plan which caters specifically for their needs. He goes on to say:

“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good. I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful”

Harmful? Seriously? Isn’t that pushing it a tad too far? Well in support of his claim, Hager states that someone with an underlying medical condition may not necessarily be capable of achieving the 10,000 steps and it could be detrimental to their health to try.

So, is Hager out there on his own in his thinking? Well, it seems not. A 2016 study of 800 people with activity trackers was conducted in Singapore which discovered that there were no health benefits to the research subjects when compared to a control group who didn’t use a tracker. What’s more, they even added a cash incentive to increase the number of steps they took. It made absolutely no difference.

In the UK, Hager also has support from Simon Leigh, a senior health economist at Nexus Clinical Analytics who has published several studies on fitness trackers in the British Medical Journal. He said:

“Dr Hager is spot on. A GP, endocrinologist or other fitness specialist would unlikely  recommend 10,000 steps for most people. Especially given that the majority of those who download these apps are likely to be unfit and in need of improvement in the first place” 

I understand what these guys are saying but surely in a population with rising rates of obesity, we need to encourage people to do some form of exercise and activity trackers can be a strong motivator in the right hands (or should that be on the right arm?). After all, surely it is better to do 10,000 steps a day than none at all? It beats lying on the sofa eating double cheese deep pan pizza and watching The Kardashians.

Surely it also depends on what you are doing on your journey of 10,000 steps. If you are having a brisk walk around the park with your Cockerpoo then that must have some health benefits. For you and the dog. However, if it’s a pub crawl around town on a Friday night followed by a stagger down to the kebab shop then I don’t think that counts. It’s really all a matter of balance.

Depending upon the type of tracker you use valuable personal information can be measured and monitored over time including heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns. The aggregation of all this big / smart data can be of use to a medical practitioner, an insurance company or even the advertising industry. The implications of this are not only fascinating but have huge business potential.

 

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A doctor could offer a prognosis on potential medical conditions saving both money and lives. Your insurance company could use your data to offer you improved premiums on health insurance in the same way that they use trackers for safe drivers on car insurance. And the ad industry can use programmatic to specifically target you with dynamic creative to offer you goods / services that are highly relevant to the individual (e.g. new running shoes in your size and favorite colors).

 

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Dr John Jakicic from the University of Pittsburgh, seems to be of the same opinion as myself. In his studies, he found that fitness trackers could form part of a series of behaviours to encourage people to lose weight or improve fitness:

“we need to be careful about relying solely on these devices. However, there is a place for these, and so we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion”

So are these trackers going end up gathering dust in the garage along with other defunct fitness gadgets such as the Ab-Cruncher and Thigh-Master? Well don’t be too hasty in ditching your Fitbit just yet. Accept it for what it is and use it accordingly. Figure out an optimum level of activity for your age, size and fitness level (if you are unsure, consult an expert or just Google it). Then simply incorporate it into your weekly workout schedule.

 

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What do you think? Are these trackers really useless or do they have some merit? Do you own one and now feel cheated or does the technology really work for you? As ever, I am interested in your viewpoint.

 

 

Written By: Steve Blakeman
Source: LinkedIn

Google Reportedly Wants to Design its Own Android Chips

Provided by The Verge

Google is reportedly taking a page out of Apple’s playbook and expressing interest in co-developing Android chips based on its own designs, according to a report today from The Information. Similar to how the iPhone carries a Ax chip designed by Apple but manufactured by companies like Samsung, Google wants to bring its own expertise and consistency to the Android ecosystem. To do that, it would need to convince a company like Qualcomm, which produces some of the top Android smartphone chips today using its own technology, to sacrifice some of its competitive edge. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

The discussions around Google-designed chips, which The Information say occurred this fall, originated around the company’s desire to build an “enterprise connectivity device” — possibly the Pixel C laptop-tablet hybrid unveiled in September — that would rely wholly on in-house technology. Soon, Google was discussing the possibility of designing its own smartphone chips as well, the report states. One benefit of Google’s strategy would be the ability to bake in cutting edge features into future versions of Android, like support for augmented and virtual reality, that would require more closely integrated software and hardware.

A Google-designed chip may find its way to Nexus phones first

However, finding a chip co-developer may prove difficult. Though Google may find a willing partner from the pool of low-cost Android manufacturers, that partner may not be able to produce the highest-quality chips capable of powering high-end smartphones. The high-end market, which Apple dominates, is where Android fragmentation may be costing Google precious sales. One possibility, if chip makers don’t agree to use Google designs, is requiring manufacturers of Google’s Nexus line use only its own designs — all the way from the chip to the body of the device.

Written by Nick Statt of The Verge 

(Source: The Verge)

Did Blackberry Just Make a Hit Phone?

blackberry priv
© Provided by IBT US

The reviews are in: BlackBerry’s first Android phone is in the hands of reviewers, and they’ve been (literally) getting to grips with it. The verdict? Considering the state of recent BlackBerries, it’s actually pretty good. But that may not be enough to turn the tide.

The Priv is a big moment for BlackBerry: on Wednesday, it was revealed that BlackBerry OS is now fifth in the global smartphone rankings. The most recent quarterly earnings report spelled bad times ahead for the company, and CEO John Chen has previously hinted that if the Priv is not a success, the company could exit hardware altogether. No pressure.

Thankfully, the Priv has found some fans in the tech world. The Verge has not had enough time to write a full review due to a faulty initial device, but Dieter Bohn noted in his preview how grippy the back of the device is. The changes to Android were welcome, and the 18-megapixel camera is really nice, if a bit slow.

Top Marks For Design

Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal was quick to caution against this being the historic comeback of BlackBerry, saying the company really should have moved to Android back in 2010 to change its fortunes. But history aside, the keyboard impressed. Stern managed 60 words per minute, compared to 45 words per minute on the iPhone, thanks to the presence of a physical keyboard.

“For the first time in years, BlackBerry has a phone that can win back the hearts and dollars of people it lost years ago—at least enough that I’ll once again spot a BlackBerry owner or two among my friends and colleagues,” Stern said.

Daniel Cooper of Engadget was less positive. The curved screen was praised, but the keyboard left something to be desired. The keyboard has touch gestures, and is not the same as the ones consumers will be used to from BlackBerry Classic devices. The keys are close together, and doesn’t quite feel the same. Despite this, Cooper still praised the look and feel of the device overall. “The Priv is probably the best-looking BlackBerry device ever,” he said.

Not The Savior

Mario Aguilar at Gizmodo was far less kind. Declaring it a phone “not even for my worst enemy,” Aguilar said the keys are tiny, performance is slow despite the Snapdragon 808 processor, and the BlackBerry Hub custom software felt dated. The highly-publicised privacy features, which the company says set it apart from the competition, failed to impress. “I got no indication that I was secure on the Priv than I would be by exercising everyday common sense on any other phone,” Aguilar said.

Mark Walton at Ars Technica was similarly negative. In what Walton describes as a “first review” (owing to the fact that the device only arrived two days ago), Walton pointed to the $700 price tag as simply too much to stomach for an Android phone that has its flaws. “Unfortunately for Blackberry, I don’t think the Priv is the saviour it so desperately needs,” he said.

Tim Moynihan, in a Wired review that largely captured the overall sentiment, gave the Priv a 6 out of 10. BlackBerry veterans will be pleased to have a physical keyboard in a modern ecosystem, but Android and iPhone users will care more about having the best camera and better integration with the operating system. “Ultimately, how you feel about the BlackBerry Priv likely has a lot to do with your last phone,” he said.

Time will tell if the Priv is a success. But as to whether it can turn the entire company around, BlackBerry may need more than a modest uptick in sales revenue to keep itself in the hardware game beyond the Priv.

Written by Mike Brown of International Business Times

(Source: International Business Times)