Now is the perfect time to buy a fitness tracker

But it’s not good news if you want a smartwatch

I’ve just spent hours trawling around the cavernous conference halls of MWC 2017 in Barcelona, looking for signs of life.

Anything that proves that the fitness tracker market, once the darling of the media and promising thousands of new ways to finally achieve the ultra-healthy version of ourselves that we’ve meant to get around to creating, is pushing into new areas of technology to revolutionize our fitness goals.

But there’s virtually nothing here. The wearables pavilion, where you’d expect the big hitters in the segment to be thronging around, has four brands that are relevant in the smartwatch or fitness tracker market, and they’re all showing old products.

Let’s start with the fitness trackers: there’s nothing new at MWC. In the pavilion, there were three Asian manufacturers showing dirt-cheap devices that pack in heart rate monitors, step counting and automatic sleep tracking for as low as $11 (£9/AU$15) - there was no innovation, just another set of brands trying to ape the low-cost thrall of the Xiaomi Mi Band, which offers a suite of fitness tracking elements for around $20 (£17/AU$25).

In fact, some of these were only remarkable at all due to the fact they bore an uncanny resemblance to the Fitbit Charge HR or Alta (and I use the word uncanny very, very pointedly).

The only fitness tracker news to come out during MWC wasn’t even from the show itself. The uncovering of the Fitbit Alta HR was due to some drunken sleuthing by Wareable’s Editor in Chief (and has since been officially launched) - and the addition of a heart rate sensor onto an already-launched product isn’t exactly going to get pulses racing - well, not until you bolt it on at least.

Some might point to the fact that MWC isn’t the usual place where fitness wearables are launched, and they may have a point. The last launch from a major brand was arguably from HTC in 2015, when it showed off the HTC Grip… which didn’t make it to market.

But there’s something ghostly that still drifts around the halls of MWC - the big brands in this space aren’t even exhibiting. Missing in action are Fitbit, Misfit and Jawbone - and Garmin, which launched a couple of new wearables last year, had a tiny white room at the back end of one of the halls, showing nothing new.

Even with nothing to announce, we’re at least used to seeing these brands hawking their wares to customers at the world’s biggest mobile show - but none of them were present this year, and that’s a pretty big sign that focuses are being shifted elsewhere.

If you’re in the market for a fitness tracker though, this is actually good news. The sales of these connected bands are still on the rise (albeit rather slowing down) and if there’s nothing new on the horizon, then you should jump in now.

Because there are still a lot of great fitness bands on the market to choose from, and with the cost slowly coming down, you might as well jump in now and start toning, losing, running or simply walking more without fear something better is on the horizon.

Where-ables?

There’s another issue in the wearables space: the worrying lack of smartwatches. While we traditionally haven’t had a slew of fitness trackers at MWC, we’ve at least been treated to a decent range of smartwatches in the past.

It wasn’t a great selection to choose from in 2016, but that didn’t matter as we had Android Wear 2.0 on the way, which was surely the time the big manufacturers were going to unleash a new wave of wearables, right?

MWC 2017 would have been the perfect time for such a thing to happen - new products being thrust in front of the world’s media, the triumphant beginning of the next chapter in smartwatches.

But we only got the Huawei Watch 2, a sportier version of its last Android Wear device - without the spinning lug on the side, it doesn’t even feel like a ‘true’ next-gen smartwatch, but something Huawei was going to launch but decided to wait a few months to make a splash with AW 2.0.

(Actually, we did also get the MyKronoz ZeTime, a smartwatch with physical hands that, as you can see, is not the greatest wearable ever conceived...)

That’s not to say the Watch 2 is a bad device - it’s attractive, powerful and does the job expected - but when judging our TechRadar MWC awards this year the ‘Best Wearable’ category was notably sparse when a few years ago we were deciding whether we needed a dedicated ‘Best Smartwatch’ award.

I’d say it’s likely we’ll see more digi-timepieces in the near future running Google’s new platform - but they won’t be coming from Sony or Motorola, both of which told TechRadar they weren’t going to be launching any new smartwatches until they can offer something with real differentiation.

So if you’re thinking of going for an Android Wear device, perhaps it’s best to wait a little while until we get more apps for the platform, and more manufacturers are tempted into bringing out new watches - right now, even the excellent LG Watch Sport looks a gamble given its lack of brethren in the smartwatch space. 

MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar reported live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2017 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Global Phones, Tablets and Wearables Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been in charge of phones, tablets and wearables at TechRadar for the best part of a decade. He can instantly recommend the best phone for you, or can be found running around the nearest park with the latest fitness tech strapped to his wrist, head or any other applicable body part.