Tuesday, 31 December 2013

LG gets into the sports band game with Lifeband Touch

LG's closest rival might be Samsung, but the Korean electronics company isn't just aping Samsung's smart watch strategy.

Instead its leaked Lifeband Touch seems to take its inspiration from the Nike FuelBand.

More details are likely to be released at CES in early January, where LG's original health band was debuted in 2013, with most interest in how the band will interact with smartphones.

It's expected the Lifeband Touch will be launched alongside the new LG G3 phone. But it will be more interesting to see how widely it supports Android devices, and even if there's a more open approach perhaps with an iOS app and/or web interface.

source: Engadget

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Apple awarded US patent for phone-embedded heart rate monitor

Quite where it will all end up, but Apple has been awarded a US patent for embedding a heart rate monitor in a smartphone. 

U.S. Patent No. 8,615,290 is entitled 'Seamlessly embedded heart rate monitor' and talks about using this functionality to "identify or authenticate" a user, or perhaps "determine the user's mood from the cardiac signals".

In this way, it doesn't seem as if Apple is looking to use the technology for health or medical features, rather for identity purposes. But it will be interesting to see whether it opens up access for thirdparty app developers to integrate with. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Track your alertness with the Vigo monitor

Apparently the average blink happens in 1/5th of a second but not all blinks are equal. For blinks are what wearable alertness monitor Vigo is all about.

The company is currently running a Kickstarter program - it's raised $28,603 of a total $50,000 goal with 39 days to go. It needs the cash to launch its eponymous Vigo device.

Looking - and used - just like a Bluetooth headset, it tracks your blinking with an infrared sensor and combined with an accelerometer and custom algorithm warns you when you're tired.

The call to action comes via a smartphone app (iOS or Android), where you can set up alerts ranging from vibration alerts to music tracks. Obvious usage patterns include potential dangerous activities such as driving through to important work or study events.

But more generally, Vigo will track your level of alertness over the course of a day, letting you see when your good and bad times are. Oh, and it also works as a hands-free Bluetooth headset.

Of course, the bigger issue of whether people are going to feel comfortable with something just below their eye and in their peripheral vision is yet to be concluded.

You can get on Kickstarter for $79 plus $15 for P&P if you're outside the US.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Byebye lost Fitbit One

As I have long predicted, yesterday was the day I lost my Fitbit One somewhere in the teeming streets of London.

It's a great piece of technology, but the crucial flaw is that you can't wear it directly.

During the day, there's a plastic clip to slip it into, and then clip to a pocket, while at night you have to put it within a soft cloth bracelet.

Compared to a wearable bracelet design such as Jawbone Up, a pod monitor is just too easy to mislay.

So where does that put me? I had a Jawbone Up for six months before the sleep/active button broke, and I had a Fitbit One for six weeks before I lost it.

Clearly, I now need to buy a proper wearable monitor, but one that is more robust than the Up band.

But my options are limited as I don't like the Nike+ Fuelband and the Fitbit Force, Polar Loop, Larklife Lark etc isn't available in Europe yet....

Despite $350 price tag, ugly Qualcomm Toq sells out initial run

Following the over-priced monstrosity that was Adidas' $399 miCoach sport watch comes something similar from phone chip company Qualcomm.

Called the Toq smartwatch, it's a phone companion, not an activity monitor - like the ill-received Galaxy Gear from Samsung.

Currently it's only available in US, but despite its $350 price, the initial batch has sold out, with further units not expected for 1-2 weeks.

Of course, this is likely to be the case because the initial production run would have been very small - a few thousand - while the Toq also works with any smartphone running Android 4.0.3 or better (unlike the Galaxy Gear which only works with certain Samsung phones).

Still, it's another small demonstration of the nascent demand for these type of devices, no matter how ugly and overpriced.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Chinese life insurance company to reward active users via wearable bracelet monitoring

A couple of weeks ago, I pondered the Chinese market for wearables, noting that one of the current big players had effectively copied Jawbone's Up bracelet.

It recently received a version 2.0 update and indeed so has Codoon's sport bracelet.

Priced at RMB 399 (around $65), it now has a LED display - more like the Nike+ Fuelband, and supports Baidu's cloud service to save data remotely.

More significantly, however, is the news that Codoon has linked up with Taikang Life Insurance to reward users who are active - as proved by the bracelet. This happens thanks to a new virtual currency, which converts into physical items.

It's an approach that I'm sure will become more popular, initially in the fast-developing Chinese fitness market, but eventually in western markets too.

[source: Technode]

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Muscle/fat monitor Skulpt Aim hits $100,000 funding target

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Skulpt Aim - the world's first device to measure the quality of your muscles through the skin.

It had just launched its $100,000 project on crowdfunding site Indiegogo - a target it has successful reached within a month. Indeed, the total is now around $125,000 and won’t end until 12 January 2014.

In terms of still getting involved, you can currently get your Skulpt Aim device for either $125 (RRP $199) or a gold version for $149 (both prices excluding P&P)

This compares to the original options of $99 (which sold out very quickly) and $119 (which I got).

Anyhow, company CEO Jose Bohorquez is very happy with the response as you can see below.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Why China will be the key market for wearable computing

Given that pretty much every piece of wearable consumer electronics is made in China, it should be no surprise that Chinese companies are getting in on the act.

Of course, one element of this is copying western designs.

Although it's one of the leading wearable companies in China, Codoon's sport bracelet is "clearly inspired" by Jawbone's Up, even down to the jack-in syncing method and the sun/moon lights for active/sleep mode.

Still I love the Google Translate description on its website: "Smart bracelet fits your lifestyle, inadvertently revealing your life in the pursuit of health".

'Inadvertent revealing' is exactly what wearable computing is all about when it comes to self-monitoring.

Nation of billons

More generally, though, it will be fascinating to see how wearable computing impacts the Chinese market. There are four reasons I think the sector will be vitally important.

One, Chinese manufacturers can make and distribute such devices very cheaply.

Two, the Chinese are suffering a health timebomb, especially with respect to obesity.

Three, the Chinese health care system is going to be revolutionised over the next decade as the burden of cost shifts from individuals and families (hence the high savings rate in China) to the state. Wearable technology will be a key part of keeping costs down and better diagnosing problems.

Four, if the government decides to mandate wearables for health/cost reasons, it has the power to make it happen. Unlike in the west, personal privacy concerns will not be a barrier to widespread adoption in China.

In that context, it's also significant that Baidu - often viewed as China's Google - is heavily pushing its cloud-based backend platform for wearable device and app companies to hook into.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

What lies beneath: Skulpt looks below your skin

Here's something to file under W for Weird.

Skulpt is a crowdfunded project to launch a monitor that will enable you to measure the fat percentage and relative muscle quality of whatever it's placed on.

It's intriguing not because it would be very useful for me - I certainly don't have upper body muscles - but it's certainly interesting in terms of how people are looking to use this new generation of self-measuring technology.

The creators say that using it to measure your four main muscle groups - biceps, triceps, abs and thigh - will provide a good estimate of overall body composition.

As you can see below, it provides score (called MQ), which like IQ is based around 100 as a general average.

Of course, this being a crowdfunded project - on the IndieGoGo website - it requires upfront payment in order to become reality.

At time of writing, Skulpt has raised around a quarter of its required $100,000, although it has plenty of time to go. The project shuts on 12 January 2014.

If you're interested, you can get in early, with the first 100 backerspaying $99 (plus P&P of $25 outside North America) instead of the RRP of $199.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

D.I.Y. Data: Checking my vital signs

Following the self-destruction of my Up band, and general moaning about the lack of open source data, I've come up with a solution.

Well, a solution of sorts. I've started manually tracking myself.

Luckily, we had a blood pressure monitor in a back cupboard and that's the core of my new regime.

When I get up, I weight myself and check my blood pressure and heart rate. That's manually entered into a spreadsheet, and I drop the numbers into a simple graph (below).

It's not rocket science, but checking these vital signs at roughly the same time every day (always before eating) should provide consistent results.

More generally, checking our vital signs is a step beyond the sport and health trackers because you certainly can't take a blood pressure reading without a proper sleeve attachment. However, the monitors themselves aren't expensive and some manufacturers of other health equipment such as Beurer and Withings do sub-£30/$50 examples.

Equally, measuring your blood pressure is medically more important than factors such as heartrate, sleeping patterns or even weight. There's a reason they call high blood pressure the 'silent killer'.

Of course, it is related to metrics such as weight, diet and general fitness, but as you can see, at the start of the process, my blood pressure was rather high.

I've since made some lifestyle tweaks and am happy to see it dropping towards the standard '120 over 80', although I'm sure there's a large psychological element in this. My lifestyle changes are not so radical that it would have had this impact so quickly.

Anyhow, what's more significant for me is not just rely on what my sensors are recording. Sure, that's useful but just because we're measuring something doesn't mean it's important. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

The wearable technology dilemma: Where's My Data?

Despite now being broken, I'm found my five months with the Jawbone Up bracelet an interesting period.

It's given me my first decent set of personal data, which is surely the point of wearable tech.

When it comes to five months of sleep data, it's not always so reliable as sometimes I forget to toggle into sleep mode, but at least I can see some broad data. September was a good month of sleep (holiday!). July and October weren't - too much travelling.

It is good to see that I've been getting more active.

Still, with my Up band now out of action, the sad thing is this data is now pretty much useless.

It's been said that the most important thing about wearable technology is that is has to be in a form that people will wear. Yet equally important is that you can get the data out of the system in a form that you can combine it with data from sensors from other companies (and even manually-inputed data). After all, over the years, we're going to be using equipment from various providers.

I think the latter will be a harder problem to solve than the former.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Jawbone Up strip down (and tape up)

I do not recommend you do this.

But considering my Jawbone Up band was broken in that I couldn't toggle between active and sleep any more (the lighting unit seemed broken), I decided to see what lies beneath.

I'd been interested in this every since the blue plastic covering had started to stretch, making the bracelet more uncomfortable and more likely to snag.

Cutting open the skin and it was clear that the electrical connection between the main band and the toggle/light unit had been totally broken. There were plenty of pieces of debris.

And as I cut further down the band, it's clear that the Up is not yet sufficiently robust to last for a year of normal wear. I've had mine since late May so it lasted just over 5 months.  You can see that the internal plastic frame was breaking in a number of other places too.

Still, I've stuck it all back together with tape and will continue to use it as a pedometer, if only to compare with the Fitbit One, which becomes my main monitor (for the time being).

Two weeks with Fitbit One

So the good news.

I haven't lost my Fitbit One yet, and week 2 saw more activity than week 1; something I can clearly see thanks to my handy weekly roundup email.

Indeed, my daily average was over the 10,000 steps recommended, although we know that as with other government recommendations, it's pretty much a random number.

What more impressive - for me at least - is that I did a 10km run during week 1 so I've clearly been more broadly active in week 2, although I have been travelling during part of the week so that will have a lot to do with it.

The only downside is my average sleep is down 40 minutes; again that's due to travelling.

However, in my even-running comparison between Fitbit One and Jawbone Up, there's been a big development. The Up band has stopped working.

Of course, this is after 6 months of use (compared to 2 weeks), so let's see how the One's operating in April 2014 (if I haven't lost it by then).

This also underlines a key issue with wearables. You have to be able to wear them all the time and they have to be robust and not easy to lose. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

21 months with Nike+ SportsWatch GPS

When it comes to big data, the problem for the self-monitoring individual is that it takes a lot of time to generate a big enough set.

Conversely, it's very quick to generate big data on a big population, and because you're looking for broad trends, you don't really care about individual variations - again, that's exactly what the self-monitoring individual is looking for.

In my own small way, the biggest dataset I've recorded to-date comes from my Nike+ TomTom running watch. It's not been perfect - due to user error as much as system deficiencies - but over the past 21 months, I've seen some trends.

In particular, I was surprised to see that of the four months in which I've been running the most, three of them were during 2012, with August 2012 being by far my 'best' month.

More generally, I was surprised to see that I managed 69 runs in 10 months in 2012, compared to only 61 runs in 10 and a half months in 2013. I was sure I'd been running more this year.

Certainly I'll need to get my skates on if I want to hit 70 runs this year.

And, on the most crude level, that's why big data is useful for the individual - when it combines with your inherent motivation...

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Neat summation: One week with Fitbit One

So one week into life with Fitbit One, and I'm enjoying it.

It works really well, the website tracking is great and I've not lost it yet (this is now my main concern).

One small but neat feature is you get a weekly email showing your data.

Of course, this being the first week, there's no trend comparison, but it's interesting to see that despite three hardcore days of sports, over the week I'm still under the 'recommended' 10,000 daily steps average.

Also, it's good to see the sleep data - something I more interested in than the exercise date. (Obviously I don't care about weight so I'm not updated that metric.)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Softbank invests in NeuroSky for "biosensor technology solutions"

When it comes to wearable technology, it might seem like the brain activity brigade have fallen over the cutting-edge.

Companies such as US outfit NeuroSky have been working on devices that detect and use brain waves for years - at least in terms of applications such as gaming.

It's never really got to point of launching consumer hardware though, and that's despite raising over $40 million.

Now, however, NeuroSky has hooked up with Japanese conglomerate Softbank in what's being called a "significant investment from SoftBank Corp. to form a strategic partnership with SoftBank Mobile Corp.".

The deal will see NeuroSky working on real-time personalized health and wellness services to be delivered over the mobile internet. Significantly, these will be in the area of electrocardiography and multi-function cardio monitoring rather than brain waves. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Jawbone Up versus Fitbit One - first night's sleep

As with all big data projects, I want big data before properly comparing Jawbone's Up with Fitbit's One.

Still, here's a quick comparison in terms of one night's sleep.

The restriction with both systems is you have to manually toggle between sleep/awake settings by pressing a button. In the case of Fitbit One, pressing the button starts (and stops) a stop watch, so at least you can see exactly what's happening. In the case of Up, you're just toggling between a sun and a crescent moon LED on the device.

Another difference is Fitbit runs all its data through a website (and there's is an app), whereas Up is only available via an app. Personally, I think the website approach is better; certainly Fitbit's website is better than Jawbone's app.

In terms of the night in question, both devices tracked the same sleep patterns; 6.5 hours of 'sleep' with some 'awake' periods about an hour before I get up.

Up is better in terms of breaking out deep sleep (dark blue) and light sleep (light blue), although I'm not clear how accurate this is. Whereas One seems to be more sensitive in terms of highlighting multiple 'awake' periods, although I'm not sure I like the idea of its 'sleep efficiency' rating.

Still, I'll get a better idea of how the two compared when I've got at least a week's worth of data to play with. 

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.