Smartphone Giants Want Your Body

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Smartphone makers are fighting for space on your wrist and your head, lucrative real estate for a new wave of high-tech devices if only they can persuade you to wear them.

Manufacturers unleashed a battery of new wearable devices at the world's biggest mobile fair in Barcelona, Spain, trying to carve out new revenue sources in developed markets where smartphone sales are slowing.

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From smart bracelets that track your fitness to watches and glasses that let you take a call or check text messages and email, these gadgets are the new stars of the February 24-27 Mobile World Congress.

Wearable devices first became commercially viable in 2013, said David Sovie, head of electronics and technology at Dublin-based consultancy group Accenture.

"I think 2014 is when you will start to see more mass market, or at least wider adoption of these technologies," he said.

According to an Accenture study of 23,000 consumers in 23 countries, there is a large appetite for such products, with 46 percent saying they were interested in smartwatches and 42 percent in smart glasses.

The first target is fitness fanatics, wooed with bracelets that record the number of steps they take, the distance travelled, calories used, or even their heartbeat.

US firm Fitbit, leader with more than 60 percent of the market for wearable fitness devices, has invited congress visitors to join a contest by strapping on a bracelet during their stay in Barcelona. The winner is the competitor who has moved most.

"We will have 1,000 participants by the end of the week," said Benoit Raimbault, head of marketing for Europe, stressing that the bracelet prods you to "move more, eat better and sleep better".

"Today the market for fitness bands is growing well and this segment will be exploited over the next years," said Annette Zimermann, analyst at technology consultants Gartner Inc.

Sony Mobile revealed on the opening day of the fair its SmartBand SWR10, a bracelet that comes with an application allowing users to log events and photographs taken during the day as well as tracking how far they walk and checking their sleep cycle.

Smartwatches, connected by wireless Bluetooth technology to the smartphone, are still trying to find a mass market, however, said Zimermann. "Smartwatches still lack good design and functionality so uptake of those devices have been very slow," she explained.

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Research house Canalys nevertheless predicts a boom in connected bracelets and watches, with sales surpassing 17 million units this year and approaching 45 million in 2017.

"It's about having an independent product that works as a standalone and does not need to be connected to your smartphone," said Archana Vidyasekar, specialist at analysts Frost & Sullivan.

"I think that is going to define the success of the market in the consumer industry."

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