Category Archives: Wearables

Pact: Beautiful Redesign Incentivizes You to Keep Healthy Habits

Pact (formerly GymPact) relaunched this year with a new name and new features. The app penalizes you ($5 charge minimum per missed event), for not reaching your pre-set fitness, eating, and diet goals. On the flip side, you are monetarily rewarded for every goal you do reach.

For exercise, you can check into a gym, use apps like RunKeeper and Moves, or activity trackers like the Jawbone UP or Fitbit devices to measure your steps. For fruit and veggie tracking, you take a photo of your meal and post it on Pact to be reviewed and accepted/declined by others in the Pact community. The diet portion requires you to track your meals using MyFitnessPal.

The new app is designed cleanly and is easy to use, updating information from trackers and apps almost immediately. Weekly emails confirm how much you owe vs. earned.

Pact isn’t failsafe and people who want to cheat by checking into gyms they pass on the street or entering bogus meal info into MyFitnessPal can still earn the $0.10 to $0.30 per event – but with such low dollar values, it’s not worth it. With Pact I check my UP steps throughout the day, making sure that I get to 10,000 steps before the day is over because in the end it isn’t earning 25 cents that matters to me, but losing the $10. Pact is slowly changing my habits and it’s a great way to kickstart a health goal.

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Predictions for 2014

I find predictions interesting. Humans make predictions almost carelessly, and unabashed I too enjoy pondering the future. While I may have been conservative last year, here are my predictions for 2014 (and to hopefully be eventually correct, beyond).

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times, 1936

  1. Consumer wearables become more accurate by being ingestible or implantable. Order yours online, FDA approved.
  2. Ambiguous grade for gym class? Low class contribution/participation? Schools start to use wearables to grade previously ‘less quantifiable’ subjects and rubrics.
  3. Emergence of classes on how to hide emotions and stress. Glass apps are being made to detect heat/sensory changes that may indicate lying, or body heat temperatures that indicate illness or nervousness.
  4. Political leaders will wear smart glasses.
  5. Medical technologies make great advances – not only more devices like the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System that restores some functional vision to the blind, but also for more cosmetic uses. Plastic surgery will become tech focused. Want a truly photographic memory? There will be an implantable brain chip for that.
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Best in Healthcare For 2013

2013 was a great year for consumer healthcare technology. This year, 95 million Americans have used mobile phones as health tools or as search devices to find healthcare information, paving the way for a more connected and health conscious 2014.

To continue with my annual Year in Review, I present some of my favorite companies and posts in 2013.

A big thank you to my readers for your support, ideas and input.

-Alexis

Best New Entrants into Wearables:

Best Smart Fabric Concepts:

  • Athos — Athletic apparel made with smart fabric and sensors to measure every muscle exertion, heartbeat, and breath
  • OMsignal  — Embedded sensors in the apparel monitor your heart rate, breathing, and activity

 Best Fitness Apps:

  • RunKeeper — GPS app to track outdoor fitness activities
  • Moves — GPS app to track daily activity continuously, shown on a timeline
  • Charity Miles — GPS app that tracks and lets you earn money for charity when you walk, run, or bike

 Best Personalized Coaching:

  • Sessions — Simple, individual, and thoughtful fitness program to help you get healthy
  • Wello — Online workouts with a Certified Personal Trainer in real-time on your mobile device over live video

A New Twist to Common Items:

  • HAPIfork — An electronic fork that monitors eating habits and alerts you when you eat too fast
  • Beam Technologies — A smart toothbrush that monitors oral hygiene and reports habits to a smart app
  • Withings Blood Pressure Monitor — Measures, calculates and tracks changes in blood pressure on graphs

Best Up and Coming:

  • PUSH — Tracks and analyzes performance at the gym; measures power, force and balance
  • Emotiv Insight — Multi-channel, wireless headset that monitors brain activity to optimize brain fitness and measures cognitive health and well-being
  • Scanadu Scout — Medical tricorder to measure, analyze and track vitals
  • MC10 — Stretchable electronics that conform to the shape of the body to measure and track vitals

Best for Healthcare Providers:

  • Pristine — Develops Glass apps to help hospitals deliver safer, more coordinated, more cost effective care
  • Informedika — Marketplace for electronic test ordering and results exchange between healthcare providers
  • IntelligentM — Data-driven hand hygiene compliance solutions for hospitals to dramatically reduce healthcare-acquired infections
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EveryMove: Earn Points and Rewards for Every Move

EveryMove gives you rewards for moving. Seriously, you get points for the things you are already doing for your physical activity. Walking to work, running, biking, or mowing the lawn? Sync up your wearable activity tracker or manually input your activities to get rewarded and recognized by your health plan, your employer and national brands. Right now, over 160 brands use EveryMove to reach subscribers and reward them for activity. What was the thought process behind creating EveryMove? CEO and Co-Founder, Russell Benaroya tells us his story.

In 2005, Russell launched REM Medical, a network of comprehensive sleep centers to deliver leading quality sleepcare in the rapidly expanding field of sleep medicine. While at REM Medical, he saw that nearly 80% of their patients were being treated because of poorly made lifestyle choices, including those surrounding diet and wellness. While managing and solving these issues was important to REM, Russell saw the value in prevention. He wondered, “How do we create a company that isn’t constrained by people who are already in the healthcare system? We came up with the goal that we wanted to improve the lives of 10 million people in 10 years, which required technology that could scale and the ability to reach people who are wellness minded but not necessarily already inside the healthcare system.”

Russell’s goal of impacting people before they found themselves inside the healthcare system laid the foundation for EveryMove. In his words, “Through a number of iterations, we got inspired by the idea of putting control into the hands of the consumer to show that their healthy lifestyle has value.”

There are 200,000 registered users on EveryMove today and growing quickly. To help participants who are looking for the right wearable tracker for their individual needs, the company just launched their Fitness Tracker Device and Comparison Tool. As Russell describes, “We want to be seen as a champion on the forefront of healthcare tracking. We don’t know what works for you, but we can help you discover the perfect solution.”

Russell thinks that the timing is right for people to adopt a healthy, value based activity system. “We think that the convergence between healthcare change, wearables, and increased smartphone processing power is creating a nexus point of tremendous opportunity for us.” EveryMove isn’t betting on a single app or device. Even Russell wears and uses multiple devices (Moves App, Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, and Garmin on runs). Instead, EveryMove wants the wearables ecosystem to flourish. As a rewards plan for health, Russell wants users to feel that, “I am part of something that is much bigger than myself and by being a part of EveryMove, it says something about me and the control that I have over my health, and that is a really empowering feeling.”

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Goji Play Launches: Tops the List of Must Have Fun Fitness Tech

I met with Kai Huang, co-founder and CEO of Blue Goji, and Zach Fountain, COO in a SOMA gym to test out Goji Play, a fusion of hardware and software that turns any cardio fitness machine into an interactive and engaging workout experience. How engaging? After the interview I tried Goji Play at home for thirty minutes and it really did feel like I had only been working out for five – it was totally and utterly immersive. Kai and his team are pros at making games active and social – he co-founded and invented Guitar Hero almost a decade ago.

The device setup is simple. I downloaded the Goji Play App as well as some games while giving the wearable activity sensor a quick charge. I clipped the sensor onto my shirt, but it also fit comfortably in my pocket or on my shoe. Setting up the wireless game controllers meant hitting all the buttons to sync them to the iPad app, which took several seconds.

The controllers are intuitive to use and designed for comfort. They can be fitted on any cardio machine or fixed onto hand batons (great for treadmill workouts). After a few minutes of using the buttons and commands they became second nature and I could focus my attention on exerting more energy into my cardio activity. I downloaded several games including a boxing game, a fast moving game (reminiscent of Mario Cart), and a block matching game similar to Tetris. Twenty minutes on one game felt like two minutes – I was so immersed that time passed quickly and before I knew it I had drummed up a sweat.

From Guitar Hero, Kai witnessed how fun games can inspire people – friends and families – to be more active and social.

How did you make the leap from pure gaming (Guitar Hero) to health and fitness?

KH: “We wanted to take the immersive experience of gaming and use it to inspire people to get active. The power of games is that they get people to engage in an activity in such a way that you often don’t realize how much time has passed because you’ve been so involved. While you are doing this, we are tracking your fitness goals, steps, distance, etc. and truly making this a fitness product.”

How has Guitar Hero influenced the design and hardware of Goji Play, if at all?

KH: “We’ve designed the Goji Play for comfort – we want you to use it on any wireless device and any cardio device in the gym. The hardware is designed to be simple and easy to use – something that everyone feels comfortable using.”

ZF: “On the software side, we area focused on making games that are deep, engaging, immersive experiences. Additional games and apps are in development and will be released on a regular basis.”

Who is your target market?

KH: “Anyone who uses an exercise machine. We have a broad audience from people who have invested in exercise equipment at home to anyone with access to a gym. “

What is the broader vision and mission of Blue Goji?

KH: “We want people to lead healthier lives and we want to get people motivated. If we can take an activity and make it fun while helping you get healthy in the process then we’ve done well.”

ZF: “We want this to have an impact on the entire family and each member can create their own profile. There might be a primary purchaser but because we support multiple profiles and have a wide variety of games we envision the entire household getting value and having some collective fun in getting in shape and using the system together. Also, given that the New Year is around the corner, we think Goji Play can keep people on track with any fitness resolutions.”

KH: “We want people to remember that Goji Play is all about fun and letting you have fun. In the background it’s about pushing you to achieve your fitness goals – but if you have fun using Goji Play, then we’ve succeeded.”

Available online starting today for $99, Goji Play is compatible with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, and can be used with most cardio equipment including treadmills, stationary and recumbent bicycles, and elliptical machines.

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Withings Pulse: Little Tracker, Big Heart (Rate Monitoring)

I had first mentioned the Withings Pulse in June and have finally gotten around to testing it.

What sets the Pulse apart from other pocket-sized wearables is the heart rate monitor on the back of the device, which can measure your heart beat in a few seconds. Since I already have the Withings Smart Body Analyzer Scale and mobile app, my Pulse data gets uploaded to the same place as my weight measurements.

Pros:
1. Two week battery life – I rarely charge it and when I do it uses the same charger as most Android phones. Easy.
2. Heart rate monitor makes it more competitive than the Fitbit One.
3. The online portal is robust and you can download all your data – which is pretty cool for those of us who like data.

Cons:
1. Less accurate than similar wearables. I did not run 8.5 miles at a 7:41 pace last Sunday. In fact, that Sunday was the day after a gorgeous destination wedding, where I unwillingly dragged myself to the gym and did 7 miles at a 10 min/mile pace on a treadmill. For a device + app that knows my height, weight, heart rate, etc. it is surprisingly inaccurate. This was also after the software update.
2. Clip format makes it difficult to use. No surprises here – this is a common complaint of mine for clips in general. There is a reason the Fitbit Flex and the new Fitbit Force are wrist wearables – it is easier to have on at all times. The Pulse is also not waterproof, unlike the Jawbone UP, which I wear into the shower. Every time I change clothes (work clothes, workout clothes, home/lounge clothes, pjs) I have to remember to remove and move the Pulse.
3. Bluetooth upload a little slow – especially if you have a weeks worth of data to upload.

Final thoughts? The Pulse is a nice wearable pocket companion – bonus if you already have the scale. I’m sure as Withings starts to collect more data and tune the Pulse the data collection will only become more and more accurate. At this price point, the Pulse competes with the Fitbit One, which doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.

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OnTheGo Platforms: Using Glass with the Ghost of Running Past

I always run faster in races. When I’m doing a training run, my thoughts tend to wander – I think about my to do list or run various scenarios through my mind. During a race, I spend most of my time thinking about how I should maneuver through a crowded group or how to most quickly pass the person in front of me. I also generally run faster during the second half of a running event, pushing for a negative split as some runners start to tire. But during training runs, I grow complacent, focus less on running, and my mind set is not on competition – it’s on finishing.

I could find a running partner – one who runs at my pace, doesn’t want to have a conversation while we run, and who can make him or herself available based on my schedule – or I can (soon) get a virtual running partner. OnTheGo Platforms is creating apps for smart glasses like Google Glass. Their showcase application, Ghost Runner, shows a ‘ghost’ (when you fall behind) that appears running in pace with your old time. Now you can ‘race’ with the old you – and with each progression, you push yourself to steadily run faster. This is a great start to glasses optimized running / fitness applications and a good proof of concept for Glass. I look forward to seeing more great ideas and apps from OnTheGo.

Ghost Runner Leader board from OnTheGo Platforms on Vimeo.

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PUSH: Quantify Your Strength, Track Your Power

People like to exaggerate. “I benched 350 yesterday,” says your office brah’. Now you can tell him to prove it.

PUSH is a new wearable device – an armband + a mobile app – that tracks and analyzes your performance at the gym. Specifically targeting strength workouts, PUSH tracks metrics including force, power, balance and consistency of your training and pushes you to train harder or ease up based on your performance. You can use PUSH to track squats, dead lifts, pull ups, bench presses and more – just about your entire CrossFit workout can be monitored. The device straps onto your arm and lets you review your progress on the app in real time. In addition to sharing your results with friends and competing with them, PUSH can create personalized workout routines to best improve your training without overdoing it, preventing injuries.

You can check out their Indiegogo campaign and get your PUSH, schedule for April/May 2014 delivery.

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Basis: Multiple Sensors Track Exercise and Sleep Accurately and Automatically

Basis is a supercharged fitness tracker. The watch uses multiple sensors to track heart rate patterns throughout the day as well as a perspiration and skin temperature changes to measure exertion levels. Basis uses these data points to paint a more exact picture of calories burned and sleep patterns.

I took the watch on a 6 mile run to see how well the tracking worked, and I was impressed. The data is compiled clearly and accurately, so you can monitor your daily activity and make small changes to be more consistent. The online portal compares activity metrics on a double axis so you can see changes in your heart rate compared to calories burned or steps taken.

The beauty in the watch is that there is no need for the user to signal activity changes. As you can see from my data, I took a nap from 5-6:30PM. Other fitness trackers would note this as ‘idle time’ but Basis knows that I fell asleep because it is tracking my heart rate, which dropped and became more steady while I was sleeping. Basis emails me whenever I reach a goal – like running an Afternoon Lap, and it syncs my data via Bluetooth to my iPhone app.

While the watch has a larger face than an UP band or Fitbit, the added sensor functionality gives it additional analytics power. If you are running with a Garmin or Suunto already, you won’t notice the Basis on your wrist. For people who prefer a smaller wearable device, the technology will only get more compact. This is definitely one company to follow.

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Thoughts on Healthcare and Life: A Little Self Reflection

Big thanks to Melissa Thompson for sharing my thoughts on healthcare wearables on her blog, Quantified30 and naming Alexisavvy a Best Healthcare Blog.

Here’s a snippet of my interview below. For more, visit Quantified30.

MT: What are the top three devices/apps you consistently wear and use these days? 

“Withings Scale – I really love this scale! I never used to track my weight but I do now – I get on the scale every other morning at the same time and in the same clothes. If I weigh in a little heavier in the morning, I try to eat healthier, drink more water or go for a run that day.

RunKeeper App – I like tracking my runs and I take photos after running to capture the scenery. There is something very rewarding about pulling up my running times and distances for the week. Also, I’m very focused on negative splits and RunKeeper does a great job tracking that and gives other interesting stats about my exercise.

Any wearable tracker I’m writing about – I go through phases where I will wear a tracker for a while before and after I write about it. I think I wore the Fitbit One for a month and the Mistfit Shine for a little longer. I’ve consistently worn the Jawbone UP because I love the way it looks, but as you’ve probably read in my latest post on the Jawbone UP, it still has some issues, as does most wearables. I’m looking forward to the Fitbit Force next!”   

MT: How has writing Alexisavvy for a year and half changed your habits or your life in general?

“When I was a healthcare private equity investor, I was often asked by friends for my opinion on which wearables I liked best, or what cool consumer health app I would invest in. And honestly, I couldn’t really give them an answer because in my day job I was looking to invest in pharmaceutical companies and lab businesses, not consumer health tech companies. So Alexisavvy.com was born – and yes, it’s definitely made me more aware of my exercise and diet. I’ve reviewed more than eighty wearable devices and apps and each time I try to test the product. My experience with Sessions has gotten me to run at least four times a week and I look forward to my walks to and from work.”

After answering Melissa’s questions, I was intrigued to see how exactly my weight fluctuated since I started Alexisavvy. I looked back on my Withings Scale data, various app analytics, and my health records – from early 2011 to October 2013, I lost 10% of my body weight and kept up with regular exercise (something I didn’t do in college or banking). I can’t properly conclude whether this is because I changed jobs, moved to a more running friendly environment, or started a healthcare blog. However, I do know that keeping track of my health and exercise has kept me better in tune with my body.

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