Smart Rings are Continuing the Evolution of Fitness Tracking

If you desired to monitor your exercises and footsteps in 2013, you likely possessed a wristband from Fitbit, Jawbone, or Nike on your arm. Now, over a decade later, the wearable technology sector appears significantly different.

Absent are the uncomplicated, screenless fitness bands that embellished our wrists long before the advent of the Apple Watch. Numerous initial players that ruled the fitness tracking scene have either shifted their focus to smartwatches, been procured by bigger firms producing smartwatches, or left the wearables market entirely. The fitness bands present today have primarily embraced the characteristics of smartwatches, providing vibrant displays that can exhibit incoming notifications, calls, and alerts.

However, what if I conveyed that basic fitness trackers are on the verge of a resurgence?

In 2024, elegant health-tracking gadgets without screens are attracting attention, but in a distinct form: smart rings. Samsung made headlines in January and once more this week at Mobile World Congress with its Galaxy Ring, a novel device for supervising activity, health, and sleep set to be launched later this year. It’s yet another indication that there’s validity behind the concept of a device that mainly operates as a standalone health tracker, contrary to today’s smartwatches, which can perform a variety of functions from monitoring your heart rate to acting as a miniature phone or digital car key.

Samsung is far from being the pioneer to introduce a smart ring; initial entrants like Oura led the way. Yet, with CNBC reporting that Chinese technology manufacturer Honor is also crafting a smart ring, and Apple experimenting with the notion of a smart ring, according to Bloomberg, there’s more focus than ever on these small fitness monitors camouflaged as jewelry.

Read more: What to Anticipate From Smartwatches in 2024

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Fitness bands like the Jawbone Up are being surpassed by smaller and more capable tech.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The parallels between smart rings and fitness trackers

At a fundamental level, fitness bands and smart rings fulfill the same objective. Devices like the Oura Ring, Evie Ring, and Ultrahuman Ring Air aim to furnish metrics regarding your activity, sleep, and overall well-being.

The Oura Ring, which I’ve been utilizing for the past couple of weeks, furnishes a Readiness Score signifying whether you’re adequately rested for intense exercise or should take it easy. The Evie Ring was crafted with women’s health in mind and can identify sleep, steps, blood oxygen levels, and heart rate, in addition to proffering period logging. The Ultrahuman Air gauges bodily signals and sleep to provide health advice and insights.

Based on the information available about the Galaxy Ring, it appears Samsung’s approach will align with these. The ring will uphold Samsung’s new My Vitality Score attribute, which like Oura’s Readiness Score amalgamates multiple metrics to provide comprehensive takeaways about your present condition grounded on aspects like sleep and activity.

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The Oura ring can inform you if you’re prepared for a workout.

Scott Stein/CNET

So, what do these rings share in common with fitness bands? For one, none of them are exceedingly focused on “smart” features, such as relaying notifications and messages from your phone. Smart rings also blend more effortlessly with any attire than smartwatches, akin to those discreet fitness bands from a decade ago. While they might appear slightly larger or bulkier than a typical wedding band, smart rings generally resemble conventional pieces of jewelry.

That resonates significantly with early fitness straps like the Jawbone Up and Misfit Shine. Like today’s smart rings, those fitness bands from the past had a screen-free, inconspicuous appearance and were essentially crafted for fitness and sleep tracking.

“The Up is meant to be worn 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all to construct a comprehensive depiction of your health and nudge you to move more,” former CNET senior writer Brian Bennett articulated in his 2012 assessment of the Jawbone Up. That identical depiction could effortlessly apply to the Oura ring.

When evaluating the Misfit Shine back in 2013, CNET’s Scott Stein characterized it as “jewelry that merely tracks your movement.” Once again, you could employ that phrase to depict a smart ring like Oura’s, although present-day smart rings can track far beyond just steps.

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The Misfit Shine: Jewelry that tracked your movement.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While there is considerable overlap in the intended demographics for smart rings and fitness bands, there are notable disparities between the two. For one, contemporary smart rings can gauge various metrics that were absent on more economical fitness bands from the past, like temperature and blood oxygen.

Consequently, there’s some divergence in their applications. Both smart rings and fitness bands can quantify exercises. However, rings tend to lean towards passively observing health metrics, whereas wristbands are more concentrated on recording exercise, mentions Thomas Husson, vice president and analyst at market research company Forrester.

“I perceive an audience maybe slightly more engrossed in the digital self, individuals who are concerned about their heart rate or sleeping patterns, who require daily reassurance about it,” Husson mentioned regarding smart rings.

Read more: How Fitbit Wishes AI to Aid You Attain Your Fitness Objectives

In contrast to the instances above, numerous fitness bands similarly possess displays, particularly recent models. Even the Fitbit Flex had a compact screen for illustrating progress towards your objectives, albeit it paled in comparison to the vibrant touchscreen on present-day Fitbit Charge 6. Fitness bands are also commonly regarded as a more budget-friendly substitute to smartwatches, whereas smart rings are roughly priced similar to, and occasionally even pricier than, certain timepieces. The Oura ring, for instance, starts at $299, while the Evie ring costs $269, juxtaposed with the $249 Apple Watch SE. And that’s exclusive of the expense of Oura’s $6 monthly subscription service, essential to unlock the majority of the Oura Ring 3’s features.

Although display-free fitness bands are infrequent, they’re not completely obsolete. There’s the Whoop fitness coaching band, which specializes in calculating recovery and strain and necessitates a substantial subscription fee of $399 for 24 months or $239 annually.

Nonetheless, let’s not overlook that the current smart ring market resembles significantly the fitness band space from a decade ago. Aside from Nike, the frontrunners in the fitness band sector mainly comprised smaller niche labels like Jawbone, Misfit, and Fitbit in the early 2010s, albeit prominent brands like Microsoft and Samsung later launched wristbands of their own.

Today, it’s Oura, Movano Health (the enterprise behind the Evie ring), Ultrahuman, and Circular that crop up most often in the smart ring discourse. Now, Samsung is the initial household title in the consumer electronics realm to formally engage in the smart ring competition.

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