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.