You may have noticed some subtle changes going on around you. More and more people are wearing odd bracelets emblazoned with small LED lights, some even show scrolling words that refer to their current ‘fuel’ levels. While it might look like a bit of avant garde jewelry, it’s really the latest in wearable technology and it’s designed to track their every move.

Before your mind wanders into some dystopian future where Big Brother is tracking your movements (which, with the cell phone in your pocket, they can already do), these trackers are intended to track your actual body movements. Like steps and motion. In other words, everything you do when you’re not just sitting at your desk or behind the wheel of your car.

Why is this important and why should you care? Three reasons, really. First, there’s a well-known tenet that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. These trackers make it drop-dead simple to measure pretty much everything: your footsteps, floors climbed, even your sleep. Second, just about anyone who sets a goal and achieves it will tell you that there is power in groups. Once you make your goal public, you’re far more likely to see it through. Most of these trackers have a built-in social component that makes it even more compelling to stick to it. Finally, when you can see progress and compare to others, it becomes a bit of a game. How many steps will I take this week? Will anyone take more than me? And if you can make it fun, well, that’s just icing on the cake (that you’re probably not going to want to eat.)

So this is why we’re counting steps here at Rare Bird. I don’t know exactly when it started, but there has been a seismic shift in the office recently. There are several different sensors available, from companies like Nike, Withings, FitBit, Jawbone, and others. Some of these are modern marvels, like the Withings Wi-Fi enabled scale that senses your weight, body fat percentage, body mass index, standing heart rate and indoor air quality and then wirelessly syncs all of this data to your phone. In fact, most of these devices have either smartphone or desktop support (or both) and there are a variety of third-party applications that can work to pull data together in one convenient spot. Not surprisingly, each of the alternatives offer their unique advantages. The Nike Fuel band may be the best looking and offers some nice features like the cool LED display that doubles as a watch. But the Fuel also records your activity in “NikeFuel” which doesn’t seem to correlate directly with calories, the unit of measure people readily understand.

 fitbit

After trying several, the FitBit trackers seem to be the biggest hit internally. They cost about $100 and can be worn on the wrist, attached to your clothes, or dropped in a pocket. They easily track the number of steps you take and the pocket version can also track floors climbed. The wristband also tracks your sleep and wakes you by silently vibrating at your optimal time. Combined with the corresponding smartphone (or iPad) application, all of the FitBit trackers automatically track your activity level, converting your steps to calories, and make suggestions for how to improve your burn to achieve your stated goals.

The social aspect, where you can compare your progress against others, serves to increase the adoption and motivation level. Seeing how you stack up against your peers, even without any additional pressure, can serve as powerful persuasion to be more active.

Some of us are going a step further and tracking calorie intake as well. This is a bit more complicated and slightly more time consuming, since each meal has to be entered into the system. But once you’ve added a food (or an entire meal) it’s always available to be added in the future. In other words, depending on how varied your eating habits, you might find you have most of your normal food entered in just a few weeks. Trust me, when you have better clarity on what you’re eating (and how hard it is to burn those calories), you begin making different choices. It’s eye opening.

The whole ‘wearable technology’ market is just emerging as a segment of the personal computing world, but it’s definitely one to pay attention to (and, in fact, there are probably some good investing opportunities to be found.) Credit Suisse recently declared wearable tech is already a $5 billion market that could jump to $30 billion in the next few years.

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