In 1965, Dr. Yoshiro Hatano urged people to walk 10,000 steps a day in order to burn calories and stay fit. This led watchmaker Yamasa Tokei to develop Japan's popular Manpo-meter (a mechanical pedometer). While these are still widely used in some circles, more accurate digital activity trackers began to dominate the market in the 1980s.
[Image: Yamasa Tokei]
Around 2001, a company called SportBrain released its First Step personal fitness assistant. It was a small clip-on unit that tracked steps, distance, calories and more. With an add-on wireless strap, you could even track heart rate. In order to review and track goals, fitness data from the First Step needed to be uploaded to the company's website via a phone line with the SportPort dock.
While the company has since gone out of business, it does retain a broad-ranging patent on wireless data collection and transmission, which it's attempted to leverage in court against contemporary device makers.
GPS device maker Garmin got into the fitness game with its Forerunner series in 2003. These bulky wrist-worn trackers benefited from Garmin's GPS know-how and could provide information on distance, duration, slope changes and location, while lasting 15 hours on a charge. The 101 was a baseline, self-contained model, but the 201 could be connected to a PC for performance analysis using Garmin's own software.
Three years after Garmin launched its new fitness-tracking wearable line, it updated the series with the 205 and 305. For the time, the devices packed in a ton of functionality and were smaller than their predecessors, but still somewhat bulky. Their GPS antennas were extended into the straps for improved tracking under heavy woodland canopies and urban "canyons." The 305 model even added heart-rate tracking into the mix. All that extra tech, though, left you with only about 10 hours of battery life.
iPods and running go hand in hand, so it's no surprise that Apple and Nike ended up collaborating on the 2006 Nike+iPod Sport Kit. Custom Nike kicks included a hideaway in-sole sensor that paired with a receiver for the iPod nano. Run stats would appear on the iPod screen, while audio prompts were delivered through the headphones. As Steve Jobs said, "The result is like having a personal coach or training partner motivating you every step of your workout." The sensors eventually adapted to the iPhone once it was released and soon it became a standalone app that leveraged the smartphone's GPS capabilities.
Never to be underestimated, Nokia delivered activity tracking in 2006 on its 5500 Sports Phone. This Symbian OS-based handset could track speed, distance, steps and calories burned. It even provided audio status updates on your workout progress when tapped.
Inspired by more than 40 years of step counting, Nintendo launched Personal Trainer: Walking in 2009. The package included two pedometers that could be synced with the company's hand-held DS and DSi devices to track your daily activity.
The software could help you set goals to increase your fitness and map your progress around the globe with its "Walk the World" feature. And with Nintendo's push toward social, you could even view the total steps of global users as they walked their way to other planets with "Space Walk."
Bodymedia, a longtime fitness research and wearables company, released its GoWear Fit lifestyle and calorie-management system in 2008. The device was designed to provide a holistic view of your physical activity so that you could "measure, adopt and maintain positive lifestyle changes."
The company later licensed its device to 24 Hour Fitness as the Bodybugg. This sensor was a "special weapon" for contestants on NBC's The Biggest Loser in 2009, helping them lose weight and get fit. Bodymedia was acquired by Jawbone in 2013 to help it further its activity-tracking tech.
After a year of setbacks following its initial announcement, the Fitbit Tracker finally arrived in 2009. This tiny clip-on gadget boasted an OLED screen for quick stats, 3D motion sensing and wireless data syncing via its base station. This device included all the basic fitness-tracking tools, along with sleep tracking as an added bonus.
The Fitbit website provided analysis of your exercise regimen and let you share fitness goals with friends and family. The slim form factor was unobtrusive, so if you were competitive, you could easily wear it all day (and night).
Bluetooth headset and mini-boombox maker Jawbone entered the fitness-tracking market in 2011 with its Up wearable. While it was an attractive, Yves Béhar-designed piece of wrist-wear, its functionality suffered a series of major failures. Complaints about bricked devices and poor battery life poured in from consumers, leading to a mass recall of the wearable. Not to be deterred, Jawbone returned in 2012 with an overhauled model.
In 2011, Motorola made its own move into fitness wearables with the Motoactv. Its design seemed to be targeting the iPod nano crowd, as it offered a small touchscreen with music-playing and fitness-tracking chops. It packed in a GPS radio, WiFi data syncing, a 3.5mm headphone jack (as well as Bluetooth for headphones) and a player to pump out those jams. The Android-based device also delved into smartwatch territory by letting you take calls and receive texts.
If you're going to wear a device all day, why not make it stylish? Indeed, that's what drove the design for the 2013 Misfit Shine. Tapping the device's stark "watch face" displayed your progress toward daily goals with a series of glowing dots. And since it was waterproof, those goals could also include swim strokes.
It seems the Shine's subtlety has even transcended hardware. A recent collaboration with Pebble saw the Shine's fitness-tracking functionality folded into the former's software.
Today's activity trackers are arriving en masse in colorful, feature-rich packages that often boast smartwatch capabilities. They double as fashion accessories and timepieces, but also keep tabs on movement, fitness goals and sleep quality.
We may have come a long way since the days of mechanical pedometers, but that goal of 10,000 steps a day certainly hasn't gotten any easier. (Segways don't count, by the way.)