Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Pre-Apple Watch, the more time passes the less seems to happen

In some ways, many things have changed since I last wrote in this blog.

  • Android Fit is out in the Lollipop OS update, as is Apple's HeathKit
  • More Android Wear devices are out
  • Samsung has released a bunch more watches, and more significantly, a medically-advanced band reference design (Simband)
  • Apple Watch has been announced

But in many ways nothing has changed, nor is going to change for many months.

During this time, we can predict:

  • More Android-based hardware will be released, but there won't be a "killer design"
  • Samsung will continue its shotgun experimentation with consumer design
  • People will continue to rumourmill about Apple Watch

But the bottomline is everyone will be waiting for the Apple Watch launch to see how big the smartwatch market will actually be. At least 24 million, according to UBS.

In the meantime, niche parts of the market are shaping up in a very interesting way.

One example of this is the approach from current tracker leader Fitbit, which has carefully upscaled its range to just below smartwatch level (or fitness super watch as it labels it).

More significantly, its two future devices have constant heartrate detection, underlining that this is now a standard feature in the market.

Certainly, I'll be picking up a Charge HR band when they're released.

And similarly the other devices that are catching my eye are those that input some elements of smartwatch functionality within the classic watch aesthetic.

Prime example is current Indiegogo project Nevo (above), which is a nice analogue watch with Misfit-like activity indicator lights around the dial. It can also alert you to notifications. Best of all, it looks like a nice watch. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

If only Nike+ could connect the dots...

Having finally suffered from the dreaded Fitbit Sweat Rash, I've bought three new straps for my Flex.

Looking at the new straps, I really hadn't realised just how hammered the original two pink straps had become.

Coincidentally, yesterday I got an email from Nike reminding me to replace my running shoes every 300 km. Interestingly, according to Nike+, my current pair have done almost 600 km.

If software was connected to sales, it could offer me a discount.

But, as with so many aspects of the health/fitness wearable industry, there's plenty of data in the system, but few smarts on how to use it effectively.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Apple Watch - a sub-standard health wearable?

Amidst all the hype, there was an interesting take on the Apple Watch from one expert.

Although Apple hasn't revealed full details about HealthKit and how it will integrate with the watch - which won't be out until early 2015 anyhow, Niharika Midha, who covers medical devices for GlobalData called the Apple Watch a "robust offering".

But noted its, "health and fitness trackers are largely dependent on the iPhone's WiFi and Global Positioning System capabilities, which is a considerable drawback in comparison to other vendors.

"For example, the Samsung Gear S has a built-in GPS and can be used to track activities without requiring connection to the handset."

Indeed, GPS seems to be surprising omission, as many sports watches have this feature as standard. It seems unlikely size would be an issue, although the impact on battery life might be.

"At present, the product is not substantially superior to existing devices in terms of health tracking mechanisms," Midha comments, although adding that presumably Apple will make a watch with standalone GPS functions at some point.

Indeed, when it comes to dedicated medical wearable devices, it's not even clear that a watch configuration would be optimal.

"Google's development of smart contact lenses targeted towards monitoring glucose levels in diabetic patients is potentially groundbreaking," he notes. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Signal, noise and Apple Watch

I'm always interesting in people making predictions, particularly after reading Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise.

The nicest thing we can say about them is that they're always wrong. Still, we can learn a lot from their mistakes.

Currently I'm pondering the 'news' that Analysys Mason reckons 1 million smart watches will be sold in 2014. That's likely not a terrible prediction. It's a nascent market, with the Pebble still having the largest install base.

However, Analysys Mason reckons 13.6 million smart watches will be sold in 2015.

An oddly precise number, but the uplift is - of course - predicated on the news that the Apple Watch won't be released until "early 2015".

What's interesting about the prediction, however, is that to my mind it assumes that more than 85 percent of smart watches sold in 2015 will be Apple Watches.

(That's assuming growth of 100 percent for the non-Apple devices that no one cares about. Even if they sell 3 million units, Apple takes 78 percent of the market.)

In that sense, then, Analysys Mason isn't predicting the growth of the smart watch market but the growth of the Apple Watch market; a market that currently doesn't exist.

Friday, 15 August 2014

For the busy doctor, email would save more lives than Fitbit

Two great quotes:

For the most part, health wearables are worn by the "wealthy and well."

"Doctors would love to be excited about wearables — they're gadget guys at heart — but their day-to-day is spent battling 30 year old fax machines to get your last lab report." says Jeff Tangney, CEO of Doximity, which makes a social communication platform for clinicians.

"For a busy doctor, the ability to use email would save more lives than a Fitbit."

Read the article over on VentureBeat.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Android Wear is GO

On the back of the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, the first Android Wear watches have been released.

LG's G Watch ($229/£159) and Samsung's Gear Live ($199/£169 - more expensive in the UK for some reason) can now be pre-ordered for early July delivery.

Motorola's much anticipated 360 (around $250) is expected sometime during the summer.

On the wrist

Of course, the point of this first generation of smartphones is - like the Pebble - to link to your phone and act as a notification point for messaging and Google Now, as well as providing the opportunity for voice search.

They will also sync with peripherals such as heart rate monitors, although it's not clear that these devices will attract the  fitness crowd per se. Design-wise, they're just a bit professional.

Next up, let's see if Apple can fulfil its "50 million sales" expectations...

Monday, 23 June 2014

Fitness monitors are coming in your ears

Just when you think the wearables market can't get any more weird, along comes something weirder.

To be fair to FreeWavz and its smart earphones, it's not the first attempt to provide an ear-mounted health tracker. LG has announced something similar with its Lifeband Touch Activity Tracker.

And in some ways, the ears aren't a terrible place to measure blood flow, although I'd like to see a side-by-side measure of heart rate accuracy compared to a chest strap.

Yet despite mention of its "medical grade pulse oximeter", the FreeWavz ability to measure O2 saturation seems very odd.

More generally, it seems like FreeWavz might be decent - if expensive - sports headphones with some random health monitoring features thrown into the mix, because that sort of thing sells a Kickstarter campaign.

So, no. I won't be contributing to the $300,000 goal.

If you do, FreeWavz can be currently backed for $179, compared to SRP of $299. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

How Google expects Android Wear to make you more present in the real world

"More present in the real world, yet more connected to the virtual world."

That's what Google's Timothy Jordan reckons is the guiding principle behind Android Wear.

"It's a fundamentally different mobile device," he says of the watch compared to a phone, asking developers to think about the wrist and the micro-interactions that best fit with the form factor.

Of course, voice interaction is probably the most important change, at least in terms of UX.

The diagram below shows how Google thinks Android Wear will improve the speed of getting information.

Check out the full video below.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Why wearables will optimise insurance-based health systems but challenge publicly-funded ones

There was an interesting guest column recently on VentureBeat about the impact of wearables in the US health market.

Now I've always thought that wearables are more likely to be big business in China because it has a very fast growing obesity problem and a very immature health service. That's a good situation for innovation.

However, the US - with its mature obesity problem, mature but broken insurance-based health service and individualistic approach to life - is perhaps an even better environment for the widespread adoption of wearables for personal health.

Making it cheaper with proof

In its simplest form, this could see health insurance companies reducing premiums for people who wear health sensors because - in terms of known data - the personal insurance-based health market has previously always been loaded in favour of the individual.

That's why insurers play by the small print and the attempt to get full disclosure. It's the only weapon they have.

But wearable sensors disrupt this information imbalance. Instead of us telling the insurers how much we don't drink or how much we do run, we'll now have to prove it.

Breaking down the average

For some people, this is bad news, of course. But for generally honest and fit people, it should see a lowering of health costs, and hence will encourage more people to be healthy and fit and prove that they are healthy and fit.

Surely that's one outcome we can all agree is positive.

Of course, this does create a problem for those who aren't or can't prove they are healthy as they will have to bear more of the costs of their healthcare.

No doubt that will be another big political issue, but that's something that's happening through all insurance-based services as better data breaks down what were once dumb averages into well defined risk segments i.e. pensions, flooding, car cover etc.

Hands off our NHS, Fitbit

The sad news, however, is for those countries - like the UK - which don't have insurance-based health services, but instead have publicly-funded systems, paid through general taxation.

The NHS - free at the point of delivery etc etc - has no easy way to build such incentives (at least financial incentives) to encourage people to be more healthy and prove it with wearable sensors.

And let's get this straight. We're not talking about people running marathons here. A recent study suggested that 73 percent of people who used their mobiles to track basic fitness believed they become healthier.

Indeed, giving people more information about their health, generally allows them to change their behaviour for the better - that's even the case when we talk about crude anchoring advice such as 5 fruit and vegetables a day, 10,000 steps a day, or not drinking more than 21 units of alcohol a week.

The question is not whether people fulfil these goals, but it's that they do better than if they have no advice at all.

Instead, the big challenge for services like the NHS is that it will be extremely difficult to use wearable devices to directly incentivise individuals to get fitter and stay fitter for longer in the way insurance-based services will be able to do.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Two problems with the Quantifiable Self - quantification and self

Anyone who works with data knows what a messy situation it always is. All data - at least all useful data - has issues, ranging from how it’s recorded to how it should be processed. This is particularly the case with systems that rely on some human input. Self-reporting is notoriously hopeless, with research suggesting, for example, that the self reporting of ‘calories eaten’ is under reported by around 30 percent. Even using a device like my Fitbit Flex, you have to remember to switch it into sleep mode for it to automatically measure sleep (yes, I know you can manually add it later, but who does?). Similarly my Nike+ GPS watch can take anything up to a minute to lock onto the satellites it requires. Not to mention, randomly resetting itself to 2010 if it runs out of power, and the five or so times it never got a satellite signal during a 30 minute run. Margin of error These are slight errors of self and quantification, of course. More worrying - given we appear to be ready to hand over aspect of personal medicine to such devices (c.f. Apple’s HealthKit) - is the basic accuracy of the devices we’re using. A recent example. I went for a run using a Beurer fitness watch with heart monitor, and my Nike+ GPS watch. Both were started at the same time, but at the end of the run, the Nike+ watch listed 403 calories burnt, while the Beurer said 320. Assuming the Beurer+heart rate monitor is the more accurate of the two, that’s a 26 percent difference. Combining my two examples then, I could be over-exaggerating my calories burnt by 26 percent and under-exaggerating my calories in by 30 percent. That’s massive inaccuracy. Life and death? Yet, again, it could be said this is a trivial case. Where it does get concerning is when devices say they can accurately measure proper medical metrics such as cholesterol or blood sugar, or for some people even heart rate and calories (in and out). Not to mention when doctors are relying on people using the devices properly,: and that could be whether legitimate or illegitimate misuse c.f. the statistics about how many people complete their set treatment of antibiotics (22 percent of 16-24 year olds) But maybe I’m being too pessimistic. The Quantified Self can clearly produce great results, even with the current generation of devices. In most of these cases, though, it works because the motivation behind the Quantified Self is the self. Initial self awareness and self motivation enables quantification to positively feedback into a better self. Where we need to be concerned is in the cases of those where we expect quantification alone to drive self and change behaviour. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

What if not even an Apple wearable can shrink its lardy-assed fanboys?

So the Apple iWatch hype starts its rolling boil this week.

Rumours throughout the tech and business press are suggesting an October release of a device that will act as the hardware pivot for the announced HealthKit and Health app in iOS 8.

Perhaps more interesting are those people who are quoting a 3-4 million production run on the hardware; impressive if true given Pebble’s oft-quoted 400,000 install base.

Of course, what’s actually important is whether those likely millions of buyers actually use the device in anything like a proper manner.

For, while there is a percent of tech geeks who are also into health (hence platforms like Nike+ etc), the vast majority of Apple fanboys are pasty, lard arses.

So while they will be buying a large strap version of the iWatch, for how long will they be wearing - or more importantly - interacting with it when it starts telling them to stop eating cake and go for a run?

And that’s going to be the biggest challenge, especially for a likely highly fashionable Apple device, that will attract an audience that has no real interest in health, only in being seen with the latest Apple hardware.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Apple, HealthKit and the Walled Garden

Somewhere between a bang and a whimper, Apple announced its HealthKit platform.

This being revealed at the company's developer conference, Apple didn't talk about any consumer hardware. Instead its focus was to talk briefly about how the platform unifies multiple health metrics.

Combined with Apple's linked and overarching Health app, it looks like the baseline configuration won't offer anything different that the current generation of health trackers - tracking calories, sleep, heart rate etc - plus what looks like more comprehensive medical metrics, listed as ominously as Diagnostics. Lab Results and Medical ID.

Apple has said that HealthKit will be open to thirdparties, mentioning for example the Nike+ fitness platform. But the point of the platform is that within iOS, you'll be able to share whatever data you're monitoring with integrated apps, including links to professional healthcare providers.

US regional provider Mayo Clinic has been particularly keen to praise the move.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question, however, is how open the data is, particularly in the longterm?

Obviously there's a privacy issue involved in terms of how medical data is shared and made available in the short-term, but equally, given Apple's proprietary nature (aka The Walled Garden), it seems unlikely it's adopting open industry standards, which as I've argued is a main longterm concern with this sort of fitness and health data.

And maybe, as important, it's not clear how Apple's iOS 8-centric approach will en/discourage the wider health and fitness app industry, which is something that will require support for Android and the web.

After all, we're not going to be using Apple hardware for the rest of our lives. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Why smart watch market share estimates remain meaningless hokum

According to market intelligence outfit Strategy Analytics, the smart watch market is exploding.

It reckons global shipments were up 250 percent year-on-year in Q1 2014 to over 700,000 units.

The key driver of this growth was Samsung, which shipped 500,000 units, taking an estimated 71 percent market share.

What tosh...

Whether the numbers are correct or not - and the fact these are units shipped not sold is a clue - it's pretty clear Samsung is not going to be the market leader on this sort of scale.

After all, back in 2013, rival market intelligence outfit Canalyst estimated that Samsung had a 54 percent market share but that was when it had shipped lots of Galaxy Gear smartphones, many of which were subsequently returned to retailers because it was a rubbish product.

But did Canalyst track those returns? Did it heck.

Of course, the more vital issue with Samsung smart watches is they only work with Samsung phones. Sure, that's a big market but it also demonstrates that Samsung doesn't get the potential of smart watches in the way that Pebble (which supports iOS and Android phone) does - and I'm not just saying that because I'm a Pebbler.

But, perhaps even more importantly, the smart watch market is so nascent at the moment that until we've had a couple of quarters of Android Wear hardware shipping (and more importantly being sold and worn by real people), there's little point even discussing market share percentages.

Still, if you have $6,999 burning a hole in your pocket, feel free to buy Strategy Analytics' no doubt awesome 6-page report

Monday, 12 May 2014

LG gets all operatic about its G Watch

LG seems to be very confident about its G Watch. It's one of the many smart watches that's built using Google's Android Wear wearables platform.

I'm not sure the music appeals to the target audience, though.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Power problems

While I'm excited by the idea of 24/7 wearables, my experience over the past year has not been great.

My Jawbone Up wasn't robust enough to last 3 months, while I lost my Fitbit One within a month. My Fitbit Flex has done better than both, but now requires some card to be jammed into its proprietary charging dock to charge.

What is it with wearable makers and proprietary charging docks/cables?

In other 'bad battery' news, I've been trying out the Moves smartphone software, which was recently purchased by Facebook.

It works okay, but is a total battery drain; it's usually the largest singler battery user on my Nexus 5 at around 30 percent, and - of course - I don't carry my phone with me much either, so it's not even tracking most of my movement. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Amazon is getting into wearables, but how deep?

With rumours suggesting Amazon is about to launch its own phone, maybe I should start a rumour about the Amazon wearable.

After all, the company has just launched a dedicated storefront for the category.

Called the Wearable Technology store, this is an one-stop shop for trackers, smart watches, health products and wearable cameras. The store launches with FitBit and Samsung Gear as highlighted products, also including content from Gizmodo and to-be-released products like lifestyle camera Narrative. 

Yet as we've seen over the years, Amazon has launched its own e-reader, its tablet and its TV streaming box. And now the phone seems likely. 

The reason in all these cases is Amazon wants to keep its best customers within its own digital world: each device is a vertical silo whereby customers can only buy Amazon content or content that's distributed through Amazon. 

And wearables fit right into this. Wearing an Amazon tracker, the store's recommendation engine could tell you when you need to replace your running shoes (after 500 km), or the best sleeping pills to help with that annoying insomnia.  

So forget delivery drones. You'll soon be wearing Bezos on your wrist. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

After some calculations, I still don't like NikeFuel

I'm probably starting to obsess, but I've been thinking more about NikeFuel.

Obviously, it has to based on something:  it's not totally made up. My point is that trying to come up with a wide measure of physical activity is a thankless, nigh-on impossible task. Which is why I think NikeFuel will fail to replace the calorie as a better measure.

Still, I wanted to dig down into it, so did some quick calculations.

I've simply analysed my own generation of NikeFuel over the past three years, measuring it against calories burned. Both of these metrics have been generated by my Nike+ TomTom GPS running watch so should be consistent across the period.

Interesting, the activity associated with burning 1 calorie has changed from 2.58 NikeFuel units in 2012, to 3.18 NikeFuel units in 2014; an increase of 19 percent.

However, my average running pace per km has also changed, so I also did a quick calculation to see if this was the reason. But even if we assume the watch isn't increasing the number of calories burned due to a faster pace at all (an extreme assumption), the improvement in my average running pace would only account for around 50 percent of the change in the conversion been a calorie and a NikeFuel unit.

My skepticism about NikeFuel continues...

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Facebook buys Moves in personal activity data move

Depending on your point of view, Facebook's acquisition of Moves either underlines the wider importance of the personal tracking market, or blows more air up the rear of an already over inflated bubble.

The company behind Moves is Helsinki-based Protogeo, and according to general concensus, the deal wasn't measured in the billions of an Oculus Rift, Instagram or WhatsApp.

Perhaps what's most interesting is that Moves isn't a hardware solution. To that extent, it's just another iOS/Android app, which uses motion and location data to generate a daily report, including Foursquare-style check-ins.

Indeed, it actively sells itself on being better than hardware gadgets like Fitbit, FuelBand (it doesn't handle sleep, though) or dedicated sports apps like Runkeeper, which is odd, because it only works if you take your phone with you everywhere you go; something we're likely do in terms of commute and general leisure activity but often not in terms of dedicated sports activity, although you can manually enter gym sessions etc.

As for the reason for the Facebook deal, it's hard to tell.

Protogeo says it will be business as usual; notably stating we have no plans to "commingle data with Facebook".

But you have to expect Moves-type functionality to make its way into Facebook, while further extending that software platform into Facebook-branded hardware could be a logical next, next step.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Nike’s attempt to roll NikeFuel as a platform play is smart but doomed

In some ways, it’s no surprise that Nike is refocusing away from fitness/wearable hardware to software. Despite the Nike+ brand, the FuelBand tracking bracelet (below) hasn’t found a strong position in the market, while the Nike+ TomTom GPS running watch - which I’ve happily used over the past 2 years - is too expensive compared to the competition.

According to Cnet, the company's decision sees around 70 staff of the 200-strong Nike Digital Sport being laid-off. Interestingly, though, Nike says it will keep supporting and selling the current FuelBand SE, as well as improving its app.

Given the relative small savings the company will be making, and the short/medium-term decision to remain in the market, this clearly is more a strategic than a ‘religious’ move. Fitness hardware will remain a main driver in the wearable category, but Nike has understood that it doesn’t really get hardware innovation.

Instead, it’s hoping thirdparty companies will adopt the NikeFuel training metric; something it’s supporting with its Fuel Lab testing space.

Of course, with the likes of Apple (a big Nike support in iOS) and Google, not to mention every phone maker, currently looking to get into wearables, getting out of the hardware market enables Nike to get its brand into the hardware of multiple vendors.

In that sense, it is a getting out of a highly competitive market in which it is failing in the hope of making more revenue and/or brand kudos with a co-operative platform play.

Sadly, then, the bigger issue for Nike is the entire NikeFuel concept - its proprietary measurement of training - which is entirely vacuous.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fitbit treading water for the time being

There's an interview snippet from Fitbit CEO James Park on Engadget. 

Despite being viewed at the current market leader in the nascent fitness tracker market (58%), Park plays up Fitbit's start-up status. 

"We're still a relatively small company," he says.

Fitbit Flex - my current tracker

And that's the reason it's still struggling with the Flex recall. Although only 1.6 percent of users have returned their band, citing skin irritation issues, it's being investigated, hopefully returning, this time with a global roll-out.  

As for future devices, Park says, it's "advanced sensors, tracking more about your body. This is where we're going."

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Motorola looks to reinvent the smartwatch

Following the news that Google's released its preview for the Android Wear SDK, Motorola has revealed a neat-looking smartwatch.

Called the moto 360, it takes a high-end approach with a round face and analog styling; that's in contrast to the smartwatches we've seen from the likes of Samsung, Sony, Pebble etc.

There's no news on pricing yet, but availability in the US will be sometime during the summer. 

Tizen versus Android: The battle for wearables begins

On the day that Tizen has released its SDK for Wearable computing, guess what?

Google has released a preview for its Android Wear SDK.

You can get the idea of what to expect from its devices in the following video. Of course, there's no reason you couldn't do the same with Tizen, which is a joint OS from Samsung and Intel.

Indeed, Samsung just ditched Android for Tizen for its latest smartwatch, but that was before Android Wear was announced.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Another day, another fitness monitoring band?

Well, hopefully not. It looks like the Moov band is a more intelligent mix of hardware and software.

Part of this is what the company calls its 9-axis motion-sensing hardware; basically something that can measure movement particularly well. Indeed, you can use multiple Moov units if you want to track activities like boxing or get gait analysis on your running style.

This is combined with real-time AI software - initially via an iOS app, but with Android to follow - that's described as a 'virtual coach'. More than tracking your exercise, its purpose is to improve your movement. Examples given include tracking your landing impact when running, or pedal stroke efficiency for cycling.

Of course, it does the usual pedometer, sleep, calorie stuff as well.

Pricing is currently listed as $70 (international P&P is $20) compared to a RRP of $120, with delivery now slated as autumn 2014. The July batch of Moov unit sold out within 2 weeks.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

"Reading the glucose in your cells?" Just more health monitoring snakeoil

It seems the big push in wearables is measuring body metrics through the skin.

The Basis B1 watch was the first watch to claim to measure heart rate in this way, although plenty of others also now claim this, and it seems that Apple and Google are engaged in more advanced schemes for their rumoured smartwatches.

Similarly, there have been tech demos that can pick up your pulse rate by measuring the slightly reddening of your skin through a webcam as your heart pumps blood.

Still I remain very skeptical about the latest Indiegogo funding project, which claims to be able to automatically measure calorie intake through your skin.

Healbe has already raised $533,096 (over the $100,000 target with 33 days to go) for its GoBe wearable, so people are obviously keen on the technology.

If you want to fund it, the best current deal is a $189 price point against at $300 RRP.

As for how it works, Healbe claims its "continuous piezo pressure sensor" can handle heart rate, while the accelerometer will calculate calorie burn and metabolic rate.

In terms of measuring calorie input, it says it combines "a unique algorithm with measurements from the body manager's pressure, accelerometer, and impedance sensors to show you calories consumed".

In other words, it guesses - just as my current $100 Fitbit Flex does.

Yet, elsewhere, it claims it measures your calorie intake - "by reading the glucose in your cells".

Absolute tosh.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Why a wedding ring is a great wearable health tracker

I spend quite a lot of time thinking and writing about wearable computing, especially the current range of health trackers. Obviously, there's lots of technology involved in these, from tracking our movements to health metrics like sleep, heart rate, blood pressure etc.

But there's one wearable that's a dumb as any wearable can be, but which gives me very useful - if limited - data.

It's my wedding ring.

Obviously I wear it all the time and on that basis, it provides me with a pretty good idea of the thickness of my finger, and hence my overall weight.

When I first got it, it was a snug fit. I weighed around 73 kg, but given my current situation - a state of work, life and exercise balance - I can be as low as 70.5 kg. I check my weight regularly and accurately on the scales, of course, but the looseness (or tightness) of my wedding is an ever-present reminder of the situation.

In that way, it's actually much more useful than any piece of wearable computing because as well as providing a metric associated with weight, it also provides a subtle challenge. After all, I don't want to get too thin and lose it!

And perhaps that's the lesson to wearable computing companies. Most of my failures with their technology have been for indirect reasons - they break, they get lost, they aren't nice to wear. Wearables need to be less smart but more intuitive. If nothing else, we need to be want to wear them for their own sake and not get information from them without access to a computer or mobile phone.

An infinite battery life is good too!

Monday, 10 March 2014

The importance of important data

I've been using my Fitbit Flex for a couple of months now, and I like it. I haven't lost it, like my Fitbit One and it hasn't been recalled, like the Fitbit Force. Sure it's merely functional but that's all I need.

One thing I particularly like is the weekly email of my data, which I've worked up into some graphs.

But are these graphs (and hence the underlying data) useful? Not in all cases, I fear.

I don't do anything clever in terms of entering my eating habits into the Fitbit website so that means the graph of total calories burnt is data once removed as it's reversed engineered from my activity; something effectively covered by the other two graphs.

Also, it's pretty clear to see that total distance travelled (in km) and total steps are measuring the same thing.

Still, I do find it interesting that my both are on an upwards curve. Now if only there was a simple way of extracting sleep data...

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Can Google oust Tizen as the OS for wearables?

While it makes complete sense for Google to say it wants to position Android as the OS for wearables (as quoted at SXSWi), it's also worth pointing out that Samsung's just switched from Android to Tizen for its new Gear 2 smartwatches.

That decision was apparently made in terms of battery life and performance considerations.

Of course, given its work with Google Glass and its rumoured Nexus smartwatch with LG, Google will have plenty of skin in the game. Thing is, though, performance and battery life are pretty big considerations in the wearable space, and if Samsung thinks Android doesn't currently cut the mustard, looks like it has some ways to shrink. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Personally, I don't believe Wello iPhone case/health tracker works

In an increasingly competitive market for health monitoring, the Wello iPhone 5/5S case is going all-in-one.

It reckons that if you hold it for a few seconds, via Bluetooth its app can provide your heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, temperature and heart ECG waves.

There's also for a peripheral you blow into to test your lung function.

Now, I'm all for making the qualified self as easy as possible, but accuracy must come into the picture somewhere.

I'm pretty skeptical about heart rate monitors that aren't chest straps so accuracy taking your blood pressure - a metric I love - through your fingers sounds suspicious to me.

Still, Azoi, the team behind Wello, seems legit and has been working on their tech for a couple of years. It will also be available for Android devices, only not as a case.

Guess we'll find out more when the Wello iPhone case - currently available for pre-order priced $199/£120 - is released.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

MWC 2014 Digest #1: Google, LG, Samsung, HTC and Huawei strap up

Google <3 LG
Rumourmill: Google and LG are working together on an Android smartwatch. It's assumed this operation will be similar to the way the two companies have worked together over the Nexus phone and tablet hardware. Presumably we'll find out more at Google I/O in June. NB: LG already has a fitness tracker.)

Samsung's wrists drops the Galaxy
Everyone was very rude about Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch, so Samsung has semi-ditched the brand.

Its new version is the Gear 2 smartwatch, which runs the Tizen operating system for better performance, and promises better battery life as well as being lighter. Of course, it still only works with Samsung phones. The Gear 2 also has heartrate monitoring functionality and a camera, although you can get the cheaper/smaller Gear 2 Neo sans camera. Both are expected to be available in April.

HTC builds on Toq
Everyone was confused when Qualcomm announced its Toq smartwatch. The news that HTC's first smartwatch will be based on Toq provides some context, however. Apparently HTC is also working on a wearable device that will rely on the Google Now software.

Huawei - coming in your ear

Chinese outfit Huawei is well known for its mobile infrastructure smarts, not for its consumer devices, at least in the west. It's looking to get into the wearable fitness market, however, with its TalkBand B1. The twist here is that the wrist band also converts into a Bluetooth headset. Priced at 99 euros, it's due to be released outside China in Q2 2014.

Keep your wrist free with ankle fitness monitor Flyfit

It’s a function of the advanced consumer market that competition results in attempted differentiation in terms of price, functionality and style.

In the current fitness wrist band market, price is a difficult place to complete. Basically, you need to shoot for $99.

Style is also difficult. After all, this is a piece of coloured, rubberised plastic you’ll wear around your wrist.

Function then? Kickstarter Flyfit is totally going for that with its fitness ankle band.

There is some logic as the team behind it are keen cyclists and want to better track that activity (they make an argument for swimming too).

Of course, the rub is if you don’t want to track yourself on a cycle, there’s little reason to buy - or in this case, back - Flyfit. The cost is $99, plus $25 for P&P outside the US.

In terms of the hardware, you have a small metal pod that has four symbols which light up. It slips into the coloured, rubberised plastic ankle band. Checking out proper stats happens on your smartphone via Bluetooth. And, my current personal bugbear, you have to switch the system into sleep mode.

Still, given it’s reached over 80 percent of its $90,000 goal with over 3 weeks remaining, it looks like Flyfit will be successful (in Kickstarter terms, at least).

You can see how Flyfit views its market differentiation, below.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Measuring the market's beating heart?

Following Canalys' market size predictions for smart watches and activity bands, rival ABI Research is back in the news.

It's now pulling numbers about the market size for heart rate monitors out of the air (surely using complex estimative algorithms? - Ed).

It reckons 12 million devices with the functionality shipped in 2013.

This seems rather high, given that few of the wearable fitness devices in 2013 could directly measure heart rate. There's the Withings Pulse and Basis B1 watch, but the main type of devices that measure heart rate are the dedicated chest straps you get from the likes of Polar and Beurer.

Personally, I'd be surprised if 12 million of those were sold in 2013 - although I bought two during the period - and anyway, they're not really devices. More like peripherals.

"The market for wearable computing devices is driven by a growing range of wireless connected wearable sports, fitness and wellbeing devices," says Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research.

"Heart rate and activity monitors will outpace shipments of smart watches and glasses for some years to come and they will also provide the essential foundation for the development of the broader wearable market."

That said, I think heart rate (like blood pressure) is an important element of the qualified self, even if I'm not convinced that devices like the Basis B1, Adidas miCoach Smart Run watch and forthcoming Atlas band are very accurate.

Of course, Apple might change all that...

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Fitbit and Samsung market leaders in fitness bands and smart watch sector, reckons Canalys

ABI Research recently licked its finger and raised it to the breeze, predicting 90 million wearable devices will be shipped in 2014.

Now rival market intelligence outfit Canalys has got more specific (if more pessimistic), suggesting 17 million wearable bands will ship in 2014. It reckons 9 million will be fitness bands like Fitbit Force, while 8 million will be smart watches like Pebble.

Shipments are predicted to rise to 23 million units in 2015; a 35 percent rise.

Looking at the current situation, Canalys has considered the market share of the key competitors in each sector. For what it calls "basic wearable bands", it gives Fitbit a 58 percent of the global market, followed by Jawbone at 21 percent.

That's probably about right as general consensus - which I agree with - is that Fitbit's devices are the best, with Jawbone, Nike and the rest struggling to catch up.

Surprisingly, however, Canalys thinks that Samsung is leading when it comes to smart watches. This is surprisingly, as though the company has spend tens of millions of marketing dollars, its Galaxy Gear watch is generally considered to be useless.

Similarly, devices from second placed Sony have not found much critical acclaim, leaving Pebble - in third place with 16 percent market share - in a stronger position than the numbers suggest.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Next metric for the quantified self is blood pressure

As I've previously suggested, blood pressure is one of the key body metrics; at least I track it. And it's something that up-to-this-point hasn't been addressed by wearables.

That's because it can't be easily measured in the way that say, heart rate can be: you need a proper pressure band around the upper arm, and that has to be a separate peripheral.

But it doesn't mean that companies aren't trying.

Blipcare has completed its Indiegogo funding, gaining $23,754 for what it calls the 'world's first wi-fi blood pressure'.

It uses wi-fi instead of Bluetooth so it can be used directly to the web rather than requiring an smartphone app.

More interesting from a wearables point of view, however, is the QardioArm, which takes a more conventional app-based approach, which also uploads your readings to the cloud.

It's raised $131,069 with 14 days left, with the available option being $99 with free shipping to US and UK.

Obviously, it's a wearable, although not something you wear all the time.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Nintendo announces health platform - skipping wearables, going straight to the smart toilet

While the rest of the world is going wearable-computing-crazy, game maker Nintendo is kicking against the pricks.

It's currently losing money, thanks to the failure of its Wii-U console and its decision not to make games for phones.

So CEO Satoru Iwata is trying to encourage investors to stick with the company by revealing a new initiative - its Quality of Life program.

Iwata hasn't proved any specifics, only to say that over the next 10 years, Nintendo is looking to build a preventative health platform that "improves people’s QOL in enjoyable ways".

"When we talk about 'health,' it often involves measuring something and showing the results, but if we add an application to something, maybe this application would encourage people to continue in an enjoyable way, and we feel that we can use our strengths in this area," he said.

“As those who are already suffering from illness can seek medical care, our new business domain would be providing preventive measures which would require us to enable people to monitor their health and offer them appropriate propositions."

Of course, we're already seeing this with the rise of The Quantifiable Self and wearable computing such as FitBit, Jawbone, Nike+ etc.

But as Iwata makes clear, Nintendo isn't planning to use mobile technology or wearable technology. It's looking to leapfrog these to non-wearable technology, whatever that is.

"I am not planning to announce any specific themes today, but to give you a hint, 'non-wearable' does not necessarily mean it is something that will be used in the living room," Iwata says.

Reading between the lines, then, if Nintendo isn't planning to use phones or wearable computing, it must be looking for sensors that will be more widely integrated into general life, or in this case, through the home.

Perhaps this is currently best seen in devices such as smart scales, but it's not beyond the bounds of possibilities that Nintendo is planning a health-focused home platform that could connect console peripherals such as the Wii Balance Boards with thirdparty devices such as smart scales, smart fridges, smart beds or even smart toilets.

Yeah, you heard it here first. The Nintendo Toilet... Pooping with purpose. After all, Mario is a plumber. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Predicting 90 million wearable devices shipped in 2014

As demonstrated at CES 2014, wearables are *the* explosive industry sector.

Which is why the all market intelligence companies are frantically releasing their views of just how large the market can be.

The latest outfit to chance its arm is ABI Research, which reckons that 90 million wearable computing devices will be shipped in 2014.

The majority of this - it predicts - will be from healthcare and the sports and activity sectors - the latter driven by health-lite concerns about weight and obesity. ABI Research doesn't think devices such as Google Glass and smart watches like Pebble, while driving consumer interest, won't be commercially successful, however.

"The next twelve months will be a critical period for the acceptance and adoption of wearable devices," says ABI's senior analyst Joshua Flood.

"Healthcare and sports and activity trackers are rapidly becoming mass-market products. On the flipside, wearable devices like smart watches need to overcome some critical obstacles.

"Aesthetic design, more compelling use cases, battery life and lower price points are the main inhibitors."

I.e. wearable devices need to be nice to wear.

Other companies have based their view on the industry around its financial value. Back in 2013, Gartner says it would be worth $10 billion in 2016, while Juniper Research takes the view of $19 billion in 2018.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Skulpt and Atlas demonstrate the continued power of crowdfunding

There's been plenty of debate about the importance of crowdfunding sources such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo in certain sectors of the tech world.

As with many new opportunities, the first 12 months sees a free-for-all which eventually - after some crashes and burning - settles down to a sustainable business model for a small subset of the original potential audience.

Certainly that seems to be what's happened in late 2013 into 2014, where crowdfunding for games is now pretty much dead, while crowdfunding for wearable technology is still going strong. Maybe that's because wearable tech is the hot topic, but I also think that there's a better fit as with games all you really get/are offered is a virtual experience. With wearables, on the other hand, you can something to wear (maybe even on your other hand).

Long introduction, but it does lead me to point out that the Skulpt Aim device, which measures your muscle quality using an IQ-type system (average = 100) has completed its Indiegogo, raising $384,509 from a $150,000 original goal.

Skulpt took advantage of a lot of press following its CES 2014 appearance. It even made it to Newsnight on the BBC.

Another company looking to make a similar splash, also on Indiegogo is Atlas. Here the sell is harder as it's yet another bracelet sports tracker, albeit one with the marketing tag that it's the "first fitness tracker that actually tracks your workout".

Priced at $159, apparently it can even identify the exercises you're doing, counting reps, and evaluating your form - all thanks to its inertial sensors, which can track in the x, y and z-axis. I don't see why it's such an odd shape though, and I'll also be interested to see how accurate the heart rate monitor is compared to a proper chest strap.

Still, the company has already reached its $125,000 goal; with 18 days to go, it's currently over $162,000.

You can find out more from the Atlas website.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Why 6-24% is not a healthy range

I love data, but only data in the correct context.

There is nothing more stupid, or dangerous, than data in the wrong context.

And sadly - sadly because it makes excellent products - is the following from Fitbit.com

"What's body fat percentage?
Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%."

Of course, this information is roughly correct, but as ranges go 6-24% and 14-31 % are ridiculous.

For a company that makes personal fitness devices, maybe it should get a bit more personal when it comes to statistics.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

What's body fat percentage?

Body fat is essential to maintaining good health. For most women, 14-31% is a healthy range. For guys, that range is closer to 6-24%.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

I couldn't sleep wearing a Basis B1 fitness watch

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The only point of wearables is if you wear them.

Over the next decade, it seems likely to me that wearables will become invisible as they integrated within our homes, clothes, perhaps even our bodies.

The point is what they track is important. We won't want them to have screens on them. All that data will be crunched in the cloud and the important bits displayed on any personal screen we happen to use.

Long pre-amble to the incredibly-looking Basis B1 health tracker ($199)

It's a monster, which is fine if like the Nike and Adidas sports watches, you're using it to track activity. However, a core feature of the Basis is how it analyses your sleep.

Personally, I have enough problems wearing a Fitbit Flex to sleep and that's about the smallest, thinner tracker there is. Wearing a brick on your wrist isn't going to be conductive to good sleep, although one thing Basis has done correctly that you don't need to push any buttons to toggle between sleep/active mode.

I'd also be interested to see how accurate the heart rate tracker is compared to a proper chest strap, but that's another complaint for another time.

D.I.Y. Data: Two months of monitoring my vital signs

Two months ago, I started regularly tracking some of my biometrics using a blood pressure monitor.

It's a semi-serious attempt to see how my body is reacting to the stresses and strains of daily life, and something I'll be looking to continue into 2014.

And with that in mind, here are the first 50 days of the experiment.

I think it's difficult to see any clear trends. I try to take the readings at the same time in my day - at the start - but given my weird operating routine, that's certainly not the same time each day in terms of GMT.

Still, there is a clear downwards trend in systolic blood pressure, although that may partly be because I'm getting more used to taking my own blood pressure.

My diastolic pressure has remained more constant during the period, so the systolic-diastolic line has decreased thanks to the downward trend in systolic pressure. Weight and heartrate have remained steady. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Pebble Steel is fool's gold

As I've always said, the issue with wearables isn't the technology or the features (although there has to be a minimum of these).

The issue is whether you actually want to wear them.

For me, the original Pebble watch was on the borderline of being wearable; slightly tacky and plastic-y, but at least it was colourful and toy-like

The new range of Pebble Steel watches - a pre-CES announcement - are truly horrible, however. Again, it's not the technology or features, it's just the look.

The Pebble is not a high-class piece of consumer electronics. It's an early adopter gadget. If I want a watch with a CNC milled steel case and Gorilla glass, I don't want a Pebble. Ugh!

Pebble Steel will be available, priced $249 from 29 January

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Dumbing down the smart watch to the smart band with Haloband

Kickstarter seems to be the place for upstart wearable computing companies to launch.

The latest one is Chinese outfit Haloband, which describes itself as providing a way to control your smartphone with a simple wrist move.

Basically put it's a plastic band containing two NFC sensors. You use these to set up six actions via the Haloband's smartphone app.

Then you tap your phone on the sensors in sequence to trigger the action you want to perform, such as unlocking the device, launching the camera, music player etc.

As a device, it's a pretty simple one and hence is cheap at a mere $25. However, considering the complexity of new wearable devices this seems to be a backwards step, particularly when companies like Apple are likely to integrate such features directly in their devices.

For that reason, personally I think the market for standalone wearables requires more features, not less.

You can find out more via Kickstarter.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Hello new Fitbit Flex

Following the loss of my Fitbit One - great device, terrible wearable - I had to get another tracker.

I don't like the Nike+ FuelBand concept and my experience with Jawbone's Up wasn't great either. I didn't want to get another tracker that couldn't be easily worn either, so that was the Withings Pulse out.

So, with the more capable Fitbit Force not being available yet in the UK, I decided to go with the cheaper and less functional Fitbit Flex (£80/$100).

Interestingly, it's not an integrated bracelet as I originally thought, and the website suggests. Instead, it's a small hard pod (waterproof) which slips securely into a flexible rubber band worn around the wrist.

You only have to take the pod out of the band to charge it once a week. Syncing with the Fitbit website is automatic thanks to a dongle which plugs into a USB slot on your computer.

In terms of day-to-day use, the Flex is excellent if simple.

Of course, it doesn't have the screen of the One, so you can't see how many steps you've taken, or levels you've climbed on-device. By tapping it, it will show you how many steps you've taken in terms of the flashing of 5 small leds, each of which represents 2,000 steps.

If/when you reach 10,000 steps in a day, it flashes and vibrates.

The other key feature is the sleep mode, which you toggle on by tapping on the band for a couple of seconds until you see the end two leds light up. It's a similar process to reset to active mode. This process takes a bit of getting used to, but it's not rocket science.

So, in conclusion, while Fitbit Flex is the most simple of the wearable lifestyle trackers you can buy, that's it best feature. It's small, there's little messing around, you just wear it, and - if nothing else - every week you'll get an email detailing your activity and sleep totals. And if you want more information, you can log into the website for daily totals.

Certainly, I'd recommend it as an excellent place to test the market if you're interested in wearables.