Meet 'Appcessories': Products that connect to your smartphone

Some of the market's most innovative 'appcessories,' which may become significantly more common in the next few years.

Appcessories are, essentially, devices that connect to a smartphone to make use of its features. Some of these resemble everyday items found in the Jetsons, while others, such as a smart basketball or a virtual reality headset, are groundbreaking in their own right.

The technology is progressing fast enough to draw attention from research firms, such as Canalys, which recently announced that it will make “appcessories” an official technology that it will follow as part of its research.

And while some of these devices have already received significant attention, such as the Nike+ Fuel Band or Google Glasses, others that you likely haven’t heard of are arguably just as innovative.

The 94Fifty Connected Basketball

The 94Fifty basketball is equipped with sensors, data acquisition tools and a Bluetooth radio to report the performance of the players who use it. ESPN reported that the 94Fifty’s sensors capture over 6,000 data points per second, including dribble force, backspin, shot arc, shot speed and consistency, and how long the ball has been in one hand while dribbling. The data is logged to a smartphone, providing the coach with instant metrics, and can be recharged wirelessly by being placed on a Qi wireless charging pad. While it is significantly more expensive than a standard basketball at $295 apiece, many Division I colleges have already begun using the ball to aggregate data on their players’ performance.

LUMOback Posture Sensor

The LUMOback Posture Sensor collects immediate feedback about patient spinal posture behavior. People suffering from spinal injuries or degenerative conditions need to maintain good posture. Using a combination of injection molding, sensors and ICs, LUMOback logs posture and provides direct feedback via vibration and an avatar that displays the wearer’s posture.

Clinical data was not available about the efficacy of LUMOback, but the market is large, with the American Pain Society pegging the economic cost of lower back pain to be between $560 and $635 billion. Price: $149.

The Oculus Rift immersive gaming headset

While it may resemble the form factor of Google Glass, the Oculus Rift is in fact the opposite - a totally immersive virtual reality headset designed for games like Doom and Quake. Oculus believes it has reached the right point in time to source low-cost and high-performance components to build a head-mounted display with stereoscopic 3D, rendering with a massive field of view, and ultra-low-latency head tracking. Oculus has a lot of support in the game development community. Launched from Kickstarter, Oculus is selling developer kits that include the head mounted display, access to the SDK, Unreal and Unity engine integration and a copy of Doom 3BFG. Price $300.

Wrist-worn devices for health, display, other purposes

The Nike+ Fuel Band was far ahead of the game when it was introduced, and has reaped the benefits – it is now the best-known health and fitness tracking appcessory, with its LED lights changing colors from red to yellow to green based on the user’s amount of activity.

However, the Fuel Band isn’t alone in its market. The Fitbit Flex is a recent entrant to the market, but incorporates sleep in its calculation of caloric output. The electronics are contained in a separate plastic enclosure that fit into a pocket of an attractive rubberized wristband. It has the advantage of wireless synching via Bluetooth, but the user must connect a wireless dongle to synch it to a computer or smartphone. Synching straight to a smartphone is a unique advantage. The app dashboard looks comprehensive. Price: $99.

The Jawbone Up, a simple-looking bracelet, also monitors movement and sleep activity. It communicates with Android and iOS smartphones through the audio jack to exchange collected data. Using the smartphone app, food consumption can also be logged. Price: $129.

The wristwatch form factor continues to be explored as a smartphone display. The Meta Watch Frame and Strata are two examples, with slight different packaging. The Frame is a thicker and heavier waterproof sports watch. The Strata is identical except it has a more formal smaller aluminum case. The Meta Watch connects to Android and iOS smartphones using Bluetooth providing the user with weather, texts, and alerts for email receipts and incoming phone calls. The user can control smartphone playlists from the Meta Watch. According to Canalys Analyst Daniel Matte, it runs third-party apps and is very developer and hacker friendly.

Meanwhile, Pebble used e-paper to develop a wrist-worn display. The e-paper display makes it easily readable in bright sunlight, and can be used in such applications as a bike computer. Like the Meta Watch, it connects to iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth, alerts the wearer with a silent vibration to incoming calls, emails and messages. And, similarly, Pebble got its start through Kickstarter, where it raised $10,266,845 towards its $100,000 goal. Price: $150.

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