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.