A brief history of track­ing

The in­no­va­tive first steps that birthed a bio­met­ric craze

Mac Format - - FITNESS TECH -

We track our ac­tiv­i­ties all the time. Whether we’re cal­cu­lat­ing our monthly out­go­ings or step­ping on a weigh­ing scale, we seek val­i­da­tion in num­bers be­cause we can mea­sure and com­pare them against each other, glean­ing in­sights that we can then use to steer our be­hav­iour in tar­geted ways.

This habit of quan­tifi­ca­tion has been am­pli­fied by re­cent ad­vances in elec­tronic sen­sors, which have got­ten smaller and bet­ter at record­ing bio­met­ric data. One of the first break­throughs came in the mid-90s, when Univer­sity of Alabama engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor Ken Fyfe de­vel­oped a run­ner’s speedome­ter for his own per­sonal use. Fyfe de­signed ac­celerom­e­ters to fit into a plas­tic insert in his shoe, and which wire­lessly trans­mit­ted his dis­tance cov­ered and av­er­age speed to a wrist­watch. He per­fected the sys­tem us­ing al­go­rithms to pro­duce more mean­ing­ful data, and the sen­sor soon be­came a hit with like-minded run­ners. Fyfe built a com­pany called Dy­nas­tream around his bio­met­ric wear­able, and in 2006 sold the busi­ness to Garmin for a cool $36 mil­lion.

The same year saw Nike col­lab­o­rate with Ap­ple to cre­ate an ac­tiv­ity-track­ing shoe sen­sor ac­ces­sory for iPod users, called Nike+. A year later, Ap­ple ush­ered in the smart­phone revo­lu­tion with the iPhone, and peo­ple be­gan car­ry­ing around pow­er­ful ac­celerom­e­ter-equipped com­put­ers in their pock­ets. In 2008, the iPhone 3G added GPS; mean­while so­cial me­dia caught on, and shar­ing ev­ery­thing fast be­came the norm.

Th­ese ad­vances, to­gether with the in­creased in­te­gra­tion of mo­bile net­works and cloud-based ser­vices, lib­er­ated the po­ten­tial for quan­ti­ta­tive self-mea­sure­ment, lead­ing to wear­able con­sumer de­vices and ac­tiv­ity-track­ing apps, and an explosion in share­able data on our moods, di­ets, fit­ness and health.

The al­ways-on-hand na­ture of smart­phones means that mod­ern desk­top com­put­ers now of­fer lim­ited ap­peal for bio­met­ric track­ers, with the most pop­u­lar tools ex­ist­ing as browser-based in­ter­faces that act as re­mote dash­boards for mo­bile-teth­ered track­ing ac­ces­sories.

As a re­sult, only a hand­ful of de­cent Mac fit­ness apps have sur­vived the mo­bile ad­vance (see right), be­cause iOS and de­vices like the iPhone and Ap­ple Watch are where track­ing is at.

In 2008, the iPhone 3G added GPS; mean­while so­cial me­dia caught on and shar­ing ev­ery­thing, be­came the norm

Ap­ple teamed up with Nike to de­velop the Nike+, one of the first ac­tiv­ity track­ers to be­come com­mer­cially avail­able.

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