Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Ahead of the pulse

Despite my note about the Danger of Data, there appears to be a strong move in the industry when it comes to heart monitoring.

As we all know, wearing a chest band is the best way (to-date) of measuring heart rate, but people don't like wearing these monitors or the additional cost.

Instead, they want heart monitor built into existing watch or bracelets. Indeed, Withings has a small pulse meter built into its Pulse pod tracker, although this isn't for tracking during exercise.

Perhaps the answer is new techniques for measuring heart rate. One interesting approach is the ability to measure the tiny amount of redding on the face using a web cam as each heart beat forces blood into the skin's capillaries

The face is useful in this regard because it has a large area and a large volume of blood flow. I don't think this sort of technique would work if integrated into a watch.

In that regard, I think Adidas is using more conventional monitoring in terms of its $399 miCoach Smart Run watch, which contains a heart rate monitor.

Yet now we hear that ex-Nokia outfit PulseOn has raised €1 million in VC funding to commercialise its optical heart rate monitor technology.

The race is certainly on...

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

First impressions of the Fitbit One

Fitbit's Flex bracelet fitness tracker ($99/£75) looks pretty interesting.

But now it's being replaced by the more advanced Force bracelet ($130) - something that's only available in North America.

That was the reason I ended up with the Fitbit One (£80).

It's a pod tracker that comes with a clip so you can attach it to your clothes during the day and a soft bracelet for sleeping.

As well as the small size, I'm also hoping the hard case means that it won't get trashed like my Jawbone Up.

Set up is fairly straightforward.

You have to install a small program on your PC or Mac, also plugging in the USB dongle that wireless syncs with the pod to make the first connection between the two.

Using the PC, you have to register and log into the web-based dashboard, which is where your stats are displayed. Fitbit One also supports iOS and some Android devices if you want to take the app approach. However, in terms of set up, it seems you need to do the initial set up via computer.

In terms of my first impressions, I like the way you can personalise the welcome message - mine says 'Ola Fita' - while the button you press to toggle sleep/awake mode seems much more robust than the poor old Up (which I am still using as a comparator by the way).

More, later...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The danger of data

While I think we can find out many interesting patterns by recording our data, one danger is that the data itself (or parts of the data) becomes more important than the activity we're looking to track.

It's something I'm coming to terms with respect to my use of my Beurer heartrate monitor.

When I first used it, I was surprised to  see that my peak heart rate - during a game of hockey - was recorded as 196 beats per minutes.

As we all know, the rule of thumb is that your maximum bpm is 220-your age. Believe me, I'm not 24 - not even close. Of course, such rules are just an average. There are plenty of known limitations.

The first time I used the monitor, it was a hot day, and I knew I'd worked hard during the game. But as I've used the monitor in various games since - hockey and football - I've recorded similar peaks. And the monitor seems to be working fine, because during 5 and 10 km runs, it's recording much lower peaks of around 180 bpm.

Yet now when I play sports, I'm increasingly noticing that I'm viewing my performance on my peak bpm, rather than my average bpm; a more useful longterm measure and something that the watch also records.

So I think it's time to stop using a heart rate monitor for team sports games. Maybe I'll have another look at Adidas miCoach - something I've already used with some success for hockey and football, despite the hardware's lack of mechanical robustness. Hopefully that's something which has been improved since version 1.0.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Adidas goes big, big, big with its $399 miCoach Smart Run watch

Can you have too much of a good thing?

It's something to consider as Adidas announces it's competing with the likes of the Nike+ TomTom, revealing its new fitness watch - the miCoach Smart Run.

Due for release on 1 November, it's a large piece of kit that will retail for a large chunk of cash - $399.

Of course, for that you expect - and will get - an all-singing all-dancing watch. As well as the usual GPS tracking, the watch includes a pulse meter built into the back of the case.

How accurate this will be is the important question, however, given that chest straps have always been the standard way to get a proper measurement of heart rate.

The other interesting news is that the watch will run the Android 4.1.1 OS, giving it a mere 4 hours battery life when everything is switched on. It is a standalone device, so won't connect to your smartphone, which could be good or bad, depending on your point of view.

As the name suggests, the miCoach Smart Run builds on Adidas' existing miCoach range of fitness apps (and shoe-based) hardware trackers. The latter have been more focused on sports such as football and basketball rather than running, though, making this something of a brave move for the company - but mainly because of that price.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

What a Jawbone Up looks like after 5 months

This is what a Jawbone Up activity tracker (£100, €130, $129) is supposed to look like.

This is what my Up actually looks like. (Yes, I've lost the cap too!)

Okay, I've now been wearing it 24/7 for five months, and am fairly active - football, running and hockey every week - but I'm pretty careful with my tech. I certainly don't wear my Up band in the shower.

But I'm really not sure how much longer it's going to last.

Maybe I should have bought a small size rather than a medium band, but the band is certainly losing its shape and the plastic skin is overhanging the button you press to active the sleep/wake mode.

(Or maybe the sleep/wake button mechanism is moving backwards within the band. It's hard to say which.)

Of course, this is one of the big challenges for wearable technology. We're going to wear it, and it's going to wear out. That's the reason most other companies have either chosen watch-style units or hard plastic frames for their trackers.

Other than the wear, however, I'm pretty happy with the Up.

Sure, the software could be better (iPad support anyhow?), but the software for any wearable tech could - and presumably will over time - be better.

NB: I think my primary request would be an option to manually add-in data, especially for the nights I've forgotten to turn on the sleep mode - happens about once a month.

I'm not a power user - so no food or mood tracking etc - but here's my data to-date. Sleep increasing, steps high. All good.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Let's start tracking from the beginning...

I've always viewed predictions of market sector size to be worthless.

Even those analysts who do have a good grasp of market dynamics, and who do take a robust approach to generating decent current numbers, don't have a crystal ball.

On that basis maybe they can 'predict' how the market will change over the next couple of years, but anything more longterm than two years is clearly beyond the accuracy of the currently available information.

That means even the best analysts are guessing. And that's why the only reason predictions of market sector size are interesting is in retrospect - basically to see how wrong our assumptions were.

On that basis, according to the BBC, these are some of the market predictions for the future size of the wearable technology market.

Juniper Research: $1.4 billion in 2013. $19 billion in 2018.

Gartner: $10 billion in 2016.

Credit Suisse: $50 billion in 2018.

As for my view, I think it depends on whether wearable technology remains a consumer market - mainly for sports fans who want to track their performance - or whether it breaks out hard into general medical practice.

In the case of the latter, $50 billion is the ballpark by 2018. In the case of the former, it's $10 billion.