Tech

Companies rush to replace the gym at CES

The year of the first-ever all-virtual CES is, unsurprisingly, the year of the virtual gym. The past 12 months have seen most of our fitness routines completely transformed — speaking for myself, my Apple Watch step count shows two big empty spots where March and April are.

Fitness startups have seen unexpected windfall in all of this. In June, Lululemon announced plans to acquire Mirror for $500 million, while competitors like Tonal saw a 7x increase in sales for the year. In December, Apple launched Fitness+, its own on-demand service designed to take on the Pelotons of the world.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re starting to see a streaming service-style land rush on the fitness side of things. It’s a massive industry, of course, and odds are things will never return exactly to “normal” in the wake of all of this, but unlike movie services, it’s hard to imagine people subscribing to more than one at a time.

Perhaps the biggest name to enter the market thus far at CES is Samsung. The electronics giant announced Smart Trainer, an addition to its growing line of fitness-focused apps. The system is designed specially for Samsung’s Smart TVs, using a webcam to track exercises. On that front, at least, it seems to be a bit more in-depth than Apple’s Watch-only tracking, which relies on an accelerometer and heart-rate monitor for feedback. Like Fitness+, it will employ trainers to lead exercises, including workout celebrity Jillian Michaels.

Ultrahuman is another major fitness video platform making its debut this week. The startup recently closed an $8 million round. Like Fitness+, its biotracking is built around the Apple Watch, showcasing heart rate and calories burned, among other metrics. The service compares its offering to a “masterclass” for fitness.

Partners include leading athletes and celebrities like Crossfit champion Kara Saunders, fitness celebrity Amanda Cerny, coach Johannes Bartl, hybrid athlete and coach Kris Gethin and MindSize CEO Christian Straka to name a few. Available on iOS and Android devices, the app also integrates biofeedback via its Apple Watch integration to measure and improve the efficacy of meditation and workouts. Compared to Calm and Headspace’s celebrity content approach, Ultrahuman uses a technology platform-based approach to improve experience and long-term results.

These services set themselves apart from the likes of Mirror, Peloton and new offerings from the likes of NordicTrack, in that these technologies ditch the heavy exercise equipment, lowering the barrier of entry (though I suppose Samsung’s does require a big, expensive TV). The fact is that demand will decrease when people feel more comfortable going to the gym. That will certainly shake out the industry to a certain extent.

For many people, however, once the secrets of home fitness have been unlocked, they may never want to visit the gym again.

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