Category Archives: Wearables

Quantified Self Expo, Part II

Here’s my second installment from the Quantified Self Expo in San Francisco over the weekend.   It’s too bad I have other work to do because I could write about this all day.

1. Vinod Khosla – The famous Silicon Valley investor spoke about the rise of algorithms as a contributor to our health care and their ability to help doctors and other caregivers deal with the massive quantity of data becoming available.  Psychiatry was a field he picked on as having a horrible model of using very small data sets (self-reported by the patient, no less) to make important decisions.  This is changing fast.  He commented that the FDA has been fairly progressive in trying to move faster on some of the new technologies, citing the example of AliveCor, which got approval within 6 months for its mobile ECG app.  He also referred to a meta-study of medical publications which found that fully half of them contain erroneous results – something that big data and artificial intelligence ought to help fix.  Bryce Roberts, in his Q&A with Tim Chang, seemed to lean more toward my own view of wearables + analytics + big data, saying that there would be a subversive (I love that word…) aspect to how it affects health care and the medical establishment.


2. In my first installment I mentioned Tim Chang of Mayfield Ventures.  He made several other good points about the development process, the most important of which was that you need a really strong VP of Systems engineering to ride herd over the hardware, firmware, and web service guys who want to point the finger at each other.  One idea he discussed was that of giving away the device and selling the data services around it.  I absolutely believe this is the future for a whole host of reasons.  As Bryce Roberts pointed out, it is very hard for hardware companies to give up the device revenue and make this jump.  I believe there is an opportunity for a middle-man to step in and offer up the data services and coaching around the idea of free devices with a monthly coaching commitment.


4. DataSense – There has been much talk about the need to aggregate and make sense of data, and Intel’s Research Lab cooked up a web service to do just that.  There is nothing particularly health focused about it, it’s really a very generic tool for pulling data together and displaying it in creative ways, but they happen to have chosen a few health trackers to start with.  I’m playing with a beta version now.   My favorite feature was the super intuitive slider for adjusting the time-binning of data so that you could smooth out noisy looking graphs.  Any former acoustician/signal processing buff has to love that.


5. Inside Tracker – a more user friendly and advanced form of blood testing than you might have used in the past (say SpectraCell), with more accurate reference ranges for values (like hormone levels) based on your age and activity and specific guidance on foods that can help correct imbalances.   Interestingly, during a presentation on the product Gil Blander pointed out that they sometimes end up telling customers to stop taking supplements, because they are overdosing on specific nutrients.


6. uBiome – there’s been a lot of focus in the last few years on the microbiome (that collection of bacteria in your gut and other places on the body) and the importance of keeping it healthy.  We’re now getting the ability to measure and catalog these bacteria, although when I spoke to Alexandra Carmichael she admitted that the science on this is still very early on this, and the ability to tailor behavior and diet in a deterministic way with these data is limited.  uBiome will tell you how your biome looks compared to others with particular lifestyle or dietary habits (Vegans, Paleos, etc.), which I think this is pretty cool.  As Khosla pointed out during his talk, much of your serotonin comes from your gut, so what happens there is pretty important to mental health.


I have a few specific posts in the queue following up on some of these themes, it was a great expo and I am already looking forward to next year.

Quantified Self Expo, Part I

My notes from the Quantified Self expo in San Francisco will require two posts, so here’s Part I, with an emphasis on topics that might be of interest to trainers, fitness center managers, and coaches:

1. Tim Chang of Mayfield presented lessons learned from his experience as an early investor in Basis, since acquired by Intel.  I could write a whole post on the topics Tim mentioned but I’ll first share two things stood out at me.  One was his focus on (essentially) the very same behavioral feedback loop that I’ve written about before – taking data and aggregating it across devices and activity areas to drive insight, then modifying behavior.  The other was his view that even as we get more machine learning and more data, there will always be a need for a human somewhere in that loop to help the consumer.  I think this is where personal trainers and coaches can play a much bigger role in what is essentially the health care system, and they can make an impact at much lower cost than hospital networks and big pharma.
2. Spire – this is a small device that goes inside the waist of your pants and measures your breathing rate.  I’ve long been interested in breathing patterns and this device has a nice design that I can imagine wearing all day.  Although it is not quite ready for prime time when it comes to exercise and training, due mainly to the motions and jarring of movement, it could be very useful in every day settings where you want to maintain a peaceful, present mind, such as meetings, stressful conversations, sitting in traffic, etc.  The app has built in reminders and encouragement to help guide you towards better breathing.
3. Sleep trackers – Sleep tracking is all the rage, for good reasons.  A lot has been written about the wrist worn devices (Basis seems to be the leader in this category) but I much prefer not to wear a watch to bed.  Beddit and emfit both have sleep trackers that slide under the sheet and monitor your movement, HR, respiration rate and HRV through the night.  Beddit seems to be a slightly slicker design, it’s a bit smaller and it interfaces to the smartphone over Bluetooth.  The app has an alarm function that will wake you at the optimal time.  It’s easy to travel with as well, for all you road warriors out there.  emfit is very similar, but without a smartphone in the loop (and without the associated alarm functionality).  It connects directly to the cloud over WiFi in your home.  I can see benefits to each approach so it’s nice to see them both on the market.
4. Genetrainer – Ralph Pethica spoke about the work they’ve done in relating your DNA to your athletic propensities.  Of particular interest is the ability to know what type of training you might most respond to.  Anyone who has struggled to dial in their training program might find some answers in their DNA.  This is a very active field of study, as Ralph scrolled through the backlog list of specific genes that he is analyzing to see if they matter to some athletic parameters.  One of the coolest things about this expo was talking to the folks with their sleeves rolled up doing research – this is definitely not a CES like show where, for the most part, everything is fully baked and ready for the masses.
5.  Body x Labs – they are building a software platform to do full 3D body scanning via commercial devices.  I can see so many applications for this, from motion analysis (golf swing, running gait) to bodybuilding (muscle growth, fat loss) to selling clothing (the perfect fit, every time, or better yet, custom clothing).
Overall there are a lot of tools – both devices and services – that are rapidly expanding the opportunities for knowledgeable experts to build business models and new services around.  If you are serious about training people and want to stay relevant and increase your value over the long term, you owe it to yourself to think about how to take advantage of these capabilities.
In my next installment I’ll share thoughts on other devices and presentations that are less oriented toward trainers and more toward self-monitoring or more health-care related aspects of the show.


Churchill Club Wearables Forum – My notes

Last week I attended the Churchill Club‘s forum, Wearable Technology: The Next Frontier (yeah, I’m behind on blogging).  It was my first time to attend one of their events and my only disappointment was in not doing it sooner.  Good conversation, great forum participants, good food, all 20 minutes from the house.
Here are my notes on comments or discussions that I found interesting or noteworthy, in no particular order:
1. Monisha Perkash, CEO of Lumo, said that  we are at or very near the novelty to necessity inflection point for wearables.  I think for a lot of folks we are getting there.  Someone defined necessity by the “turnaround factor”, IOW would you turn around to go get a wearable if you forgot it.  I was at that point as an athlete some years ago with my HRM, and I have to wonder what percent of the population will ever be that hooked on wearables although I think it’s a great goal to have as a product designer.
 2.  Justin Butler of Misfit used an analogy that I use a lot , which is that we have a lot of noise to turn into signal in terms of getting useful info out of our devices.   Combined with one of his other comments (which I also tend to agree with) that much of the hardware is commoditizing or getting close to it, and I think the smart money is focused on analytics and data analysis, which gets you a step closer to the holy grail of behavior modification.    Lately I’m playing with the Lark app, which is headed in that direction with a very easy to use conversational angle on coaching, but it’s not super advanced. is next on my list.
3.  I think it was Mike Bell of Intel who said that the market will likely remain fractured just given  personal desires and, just as importantly, the image that people want to project with their things.  This sort of contradicts the commoditization story and I think that it will be category dependent, for example watches will remain fractured but other devices, say adhesive backed HR sensors, will become commodities.
4.  The topic of data access, ownership, and platform openness came up several times.  Perkash said that Lumo had recently done an integration with Validic.  It’s clear that the apps and platforms (like HumanAPI) looking to do this are either not getting the word out, or folks have tried them and found them wanting.
5.  I think it was Yves Behar who made the distinction between “basic” vs.  “smart” wearables by whether there was third party access to the data, and I think this is a useful distinction.  Another way to slice it would be to say that if the device is paired with an analytic capability that guides behavior, it qualifies as smart even if the data are in a walled garden.   I can imagine niche applications that would fall into this category, especially where the device vendor might be leading the way in data analysis.
6.  The moderator asked which industries are not thinking about wearables but should.  Responses were aging in place, disaster response , injury prevention, and aggregating data across populations.


Wearable World Congress Notes

The Palace of Fine Arts was home to the Wearable World Congress expo this week so I made the drive to the city to look around.  It was a smaller expo than I expected but I had several interesting conversations and saw a few interesting products and platforms.  Wearable World recently became part of the ReadWrite media organization and is one of my go-to sources for news.

1. Muse – they’ve been shipping their brain sensing headband since last summer and I had an interesting chat with Andrew Parr, a pro golfer who works for Muse to take the capabilities of the device to the golf course to improve mental focus during competition.  I’ve long been interested in the nervous system as the next great frontier in sports training and we are just now getting the devices and data in place to be able to push this forward.  Combined with an understanding of breathing patterns, HRV, and muscle activation patterns there is really a lot of progress to be made here.

2. Nuheara – billed as the world’s first “adaptive augmented hearables”, they are building out a software + hardware platform for a slick looking, wireless set of earbuds that are smartphone controlled and offer a ton of features.   They really want to more seamlessly merge your physical, digital, and auditory experiences.  The device is still about a year out from production, and the team is based in Perth, Australia.   Surely they win the longest plane flight prize for the conference.

3. Panasonic – GoPro must be watching out as the cameras Panasonic showed off were incredibly small, light, and immaculately made – three things the Japanese still do as well as anyone.  They had a new one that’s not yet released which weighs 45 grams including the battery and built in WiFi.  Here’s the wired older version that’s already on the market.  Having raced mountain bikes through the night in many 24 hour races with a headlight on my helmet, I can tell you that small & light wins the day in helmet mounted devices.   If I were shopping for one, I’d definitely give Panasonic a look.

4. Ayo – Anyone who has read the Four Hour Body knows about blue light as a way to regulate energy and sleep patterns.  Ayo’s product looks like the top 2/3 of a pair of eyeglasses, but with little blue lights to stimulate your eyes and bump up your energy and help you regulate melatonin production and fight jetlag.  Assuming you don’t already wear glasses (like I do), you can wear these while working or doing household chores, so you needn’t be stationary with a blue light shining at you.

5. The Wearables Store – pretty simple, a e-commerce shop devoted to wearables.   Some new stuff there but there were enough important brands missing that we can’t call it a superstore just yet.   Speaking of webstores, at the Muse site I found the mindTec store which is focused exclusively on bio and neuro-feedback products.

6. Strap – Unfortunately I did not get to speak to anyone at their booth, because these guys are going after exactly the problem I wrote about a few weeks back – namely, how do companies extract the massive marketing value of all these wearable devices to drive better customer engagement.  The goal of their platform is to make wearable data accessible and meaningful to marketers, although the list of compatible devices/services they identify on their website is pretty short and I did not see any talk of an API for developers to use to leverage their capabilities.   Definitely one to keep an eye on though.

7. meMINI – another take on the wearable camera.  The idea is that you video your whole life and tap the device to tell it when something interesting happened, so that snippet of video gets sent to the cloud and everything else is erased.   Seems pretty handy for skiing and other outdoors events where you need a small camera (their device was a bit bigger than a matchbox) and don’t want to comb through hours of video when you’re done having your fun.

8. Amby – a watch for your kids to wear so you can keep track of them and interact with them.   It’s a wearable designed for the kids to wear but give the parents piece of mind.

Beyond specific devices, I was reminded of the importance of crowdfunding in driving wearable innovation forward, and of how great it is to live in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.  Several international companies had only one employee in the US, and they were almost always located in Northern California.   This event was obviously no substitute for CES and its more comprehensive set of vendors, but if you want to keep an eye on what’s new and not yet on the market, it’s worth it.


Feedback Loops and Fit-Tech Framework

With so many product launches and so much investment activity in the digital health & fitness arena it helps to have a framework for understanding the meaning of it all.  This post is the first in a series in which I’ll share the frameworks I use, with a few notes on some of the companies I see doing really interesting work across the entire ecosystem.

I always start by considering any new product or technology with a behavioral emphasis.  At the end of the day, it’s consumer/patient/athlete behavior that really matters when we talk about improving health, reducing costs, or improving performance.  I have another framework to look at things from a technology stack perspective which I’ll share in the next installment.

I’ve run this simple diagram by countless people, inside and outside the fitness-tech arena, and everyone seems to get it right away, so it’s been useful for me.  It’s simple, and maybe obvious, but I always find it worth stating.


This picture is informed more by my background as a coach, athlete, and lifestyle design enthusiast than by any market study or tech trends.    The Action step is where the rubber meets the road, but it’s hard, complicated, and can take a long time to move the needle.  It’s also influenced by many factors beyond the fitness or health care arena.

A lot has been written about wearables, so I won’t say much about the data collection step.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s really not the things that are interesting but the data they provide and the services they enable.

When I consider Expertise + Analytics box I’m including machines & people.   Some users are curious and enthusiastic enough to dig into physiology and learn how to interpret their own data, but that’s a fraction of the fraction of people who actually keep using their wearables (the percentage may be high, or maybe not), so the emphasis here needs to be on professional service providers of one sort or another.   IBM’s Watson and health focused providers like Vivametrica, and even more niche companies analyzing specific data sets like power data from bicycles are all contributors to the more algorithmic, machine based contribution the to this arena.

Finally, motivation is critical and many social, financial, mental health and other factors play into this.  It’s surely the hardest nut to crack and it’s also where a lot of the personalization of health care comes into play.   Some of the most interesting apps focus in this area so I’ll devote a whole post to this soon.  The opportunity for fitness clubs and other activity-related social groups to contribute here and leverage the technologies already on the market is substantial, and I believe still vastly underutilized.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback via email or the comments section.  Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn to make sure you get all the updates to the blog and subsequent articles in the series.



Nike+, TomTom, Customer Ownership

One theme you’ll hear me harp on if you hang around long enough is the somewhat grating concept of “owning the customer”.  This phrase comes up all the time in marketing and biz dev discussions, and while it’s not necessarily intended in a disrespectful way, I think the underlying premise can be dangerous and create real blindspots in guiding companies and product lines.

Once upon a time, humans struggled with scarcity.  Scarcity of food, shelter, day to day stuff.  Any cursory look around will tell you we have the opposite problem today – as the means of producing and marketing things became more and more efficient, cheap, and accessible, the availability of stuff has exploded.  Combine this with Marc Andreesen’s famous observation that software is eating the world, it’s no wonder that for so many problems, the number of viable software solutions (especially cloud based solutions) is large.

Obviously this does not apply to every industry or go-to-market approach.  Enterprise sales take a long time, car factories are still expensive and hard to build.  But in the world of fitness devices and cloud-based solutions, I’d argue the barriers to entry are low and getting lower.  So the market is likely to be fractured.  In the consumer space, your odds of owning the customer are slim.  You don’t own them, you serve them.  So you must focus maniacally on doing this the best you can, and not worry about locking in the customer.

I was inspired to write on this topic by the news of Nike re-energizing their partnership with TomTom, and announcing Nike+ compatibility with Garmin devices.   Of all the companies that might want to take a “walled garden” approach in fitness tracking, Nike and Garmin are two that you might guess have a decent shot at locking customers in to their complete solution.   But even Nike got chased out of the wearables market in favor of partnering with other hardware companies.  All these vendors are smart enough to see that while they can each offer end-to-end solutions, they can do better by making their products and services cross compatible.

I still see a lot of companies in the fitness space who are under-promoting, or altogether avoiding, cross compatibility.  I think every company in this space ought to have the technical resources, like APIs, that open the right level of services and data access to third party developers, and  I’m working on a database of apps and their third party ecosystem support.  Shoot me an email ( if you want to learn more.

Look here for official press announcements from: Nike, TomTom.




Power measurement for runners

I still remember when a little German company called SRM came out with this ghetto looking crankset that measured power on a bicycle.   It was so novel even some expert physiologists wondered what you’d do with the data.  Back then heart rate, cadence and speed were considered the benchmarks of training data and even the measurement of those was not widely adopted, never mind the training methods and protocols to get the most out of them.  Fast forward a couple of decades, and no serious cyclist would consider training without power.  Even the spin bikes at my local YMCA feature a power meter (calibration questions aside), and we are working on programs to utilize these data more comprehensively so that even casual riders can maximize their workout value and track their progress.  Mainstream companies like Garmin and Polar have joined and been driving forces in the the ecosystem around cycling power measurement.

Of course bicycles lend themselves to the instrumentation that provide power, but other sports not so much.  Enter Stryd.  They have a campaign on Kickstarter to fund a power meter for runners.  This could be huge – the ability to quantify not the runner’s speed or exertion, but the actual rate of work output – accounting for gradient, wind, etc.  Given that I spend more time running than cycling these days, I just might have to get in on the campaign and be an early adopter.

More broadly I think this points to the ongoing desire to quantify health & fitness activities, and just like with cycling it will spawn a new generation of data applications and experts to make sense of it all.  The forward thinking fitness businesses will be ready to capitalize on this when it goes mainstream.

You can learn more at their official website.