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Slim pickings by the Biggest Loser: A year of fitness wearables

My little runaway. A run run run run a runaway

Runner photo, via Shutterstock

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Welcome back. Did you manage to take some time off over the Christmas holiday or were you (figuratively) chained to a (virtual) roomful of (literally) overheating blades?

Either way, count yourself lucky simply for making it through to 2017 with your heart still beating. You are among the only humans left alive, after all, and can be forgiven for making it your personal duty to repopulate the planet as quickly as possible.

I won't join you – figuratively, virtually or literally – but I could share some websites showing videos of some other people showing you how to do it.

Sure, if you're in the UK, this might add dubious URLs to your browsing record compiled by ISPs observing the Investigatory Powers Act. But then I like to think that if you ever come under serious investigation by the spooks, Theresa May might be personally obliged to watch the videos you've been, er, "radicalising" yourself with.

Personally, I spent Christmas avoiding Christmas. I stayed at home on Black Friday. I switched off my computer on Cyber Monday. I also hung a name on Ruby Tuesday, forgave my way on Just Wednesday, was never lonely again on Sweet Thursday, parked the car on Drive-In Saturday and yelled "oh no!" on Fuck-Me-Another-Celebrity-Is-Dead Sunday.

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Indeed, I flatter myself that you may have noticed that I'd packed up this column and crawled into a cave to hibernate until it was safe to come out in 2017.

Unfortunately, this robbed me of the opportunity to announce that my Fitbit-fuelled fat-loss feat is finally finished. Just try saying that with a mouthful of mince pie. With the help of an inexpensive fitness tracker and associated smartphone app, I was able to lose 20kg of flab last year, reaching my target weight just in time to be unable to tell you.

The fun thing about losing a quarter of your body mass, however, isn't the fitness aspect so much as the weird and unexpected side effects, from a phantom belly to shrinking feet. I won't bore you with the details; those intent on being bored can read about it here.

I am told that was the easy bit. A bigger challenge lies ahead: I have to keep the weight off for the rest of my life.

I can see two possible solutions to this. First, I can ensure that the rest of my life does not go on too long. However, it seems I am in no way famous enough to be allowed to pop my clogs this year. So it looks like I'll have to opt for the second: keep exercising and avoid cookies.

Still on a high from the success of my wrist-banded, Bluetooth-synching pedometer, I thought I'd give some other fitness trackers a go. Judging from this experience, I now understand why consumers are already losing interest in wearable tech: much of it is awkwardly designed or poorly built despite looking superficially cool.

Even my trusty Fitbit stopped working after a couple of months and had to be replaced. But no manufacturer comes out of this with unqualified success, with issues ranging from idiotically short battery life to illegible displays based on crappy backlit LCD like they had been lifted from a skip full of discarded Newtons sitting behind Apple HQ in March 1998.

Most of the cheapo fitness bands on the market cannot compensate for being worn on a dominant arm. Since I already wear a wristwatch – doing so means I can tell the time without having to press a microscopic button with the other hand to find out – I always wear any fitness band on my right wrist. As a result, the act of combing my hair is invariably recorded as two flights of stairs, while it thinks I've run a half-marathon every time I brush my teeth.

Some are even purpose-built for being worn uniquely on the left wrist. Great for those without a left arm, eh? Just pop it on your right and... oh look, the text display is upside down.

I even trialled a pair of (wait for it) "in-shoe monitoring smart soles" called Tune from funky Portuguese startup Kinematix. Sitting under the industrial-strength Odour Eaters I put in my running shoes, they track not just when, where, how far and how fast I run, but whether I am running efficiently according to how my respective left and right heels and soles slap the ground with each faltering stagger.

This is far too fussy to set up and manage properly for anyone other than a running fanatic, let alone a wobbly tech journalist past the prime of his life and thinking only about the porridge waiting for him at the end of his pre-dawn jog.

Also, it requires a smartphone for GPS tracking. After having my trusty iPhone nicked at Tate Modern some weeks ago, I switched to a Huawei Mate 9. Although brilliant as a 5.9-inch phablet, it's a huge bastard to maintain strapped to your bicep during a run, unless of course you enjoy running with one arm held straight, like a wonky Playmobil.

On the other hand, I really appreciate the way the Bluetooth transmitters on the outside of my trainers glow and flash in the dark as I run, as if I was a five-year-old. Clever though it is, I might just put Tune aside for a couple of months until the days get longer and I can source a smartphone that doesn't require a rucksack.

In the meantime, from this frosty January onwards, I look forward to a year of snowballing IoT idiocy as the declining market for fitness-obsessed wearables is overtaken by a burgeoning one promoting couch-potato automation. This is a double-win in the IoT stakes: not only do we risk greater numbers of our domestic devices being hacked and trying to kill us, we'll all be too fat to run away from them when they do.

Well, you might be. Me, I'm off to another spin class. See you next week, if we both last that long.

...

Just when I thought 2016 couldn't have got any worse with the relentless deaths of various people I'd heard of, my father added himself to the list by mischievously passing away just before Christmas. He had been a clinical psychologist of some renown, helping redefine the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in Britain through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Although born in Manchester, he lived his last 45 years as a Yorkshireman, hence my particular choice of celestial guitar-playing to play us out this week. Ron Burgundy fans might even enjoy the jazz flute solo (I kid you not) at 4:15. This one's for you, Dad. Time knows no limits for days such as these.

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He has also been trialling "hi-tech nutrition" in the form of Rejuva health bars, with mixed results. They might be tasty but, in common with current tech fashion, they lack USB ports and there's no stereo headphone socket at all. And on this note, he ends his series of smug weight-loss updates. FBI Final Score: 20kg.

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