The devices I used were my recently reviewed Jawbone UP Move, and my about-to-be-published review of the Misft Wearables Flash. For this inaugural test I wore both devices at the same time, on the same wrist, for the same distance around a 400m track. The results are pretty ambiguous and it’s not easy to be comfortable with the disparities in the data:
Here’s my test method:
I didn’t count my own steps, mainly because I don’t expect any algorithmic approximation to capture every step, and partly because I didn’t have a step counter. Looks like I’ll be getting one.
The variations between devices are hard to explain, and the variations within each device’s performance over the two distances, 400m and 800m, are hard to explain. After spending a few days thinking about these results I’m concluding that this is just a starting point and that I just need more data. This is also an excellent time to reach out to the industry for comment – please write in if you’re reading this.
My method will get better and after testing a bunch more devices (or testing my current devices a bunch more times) I’ll have more data. Until then, it looks like the issue of device accuracy is a fair topic – and one with room for improvement.
That’s officially going to change.
Companies in the sports & fitness industry are starting to call for accuracy standards and I can now easily understand why. In a very informal test yesterday, I wore my Move and my Flash at the same time for a portion of the day. I put them on my non-dominant arm at the same time and I took them off at the same time. Here’s how the data compare:
Huh? The distance counts are remarkably close, but the steps are way, way off. This disparity is a significant issue – increasingly, people are going to be relying on these devices to gauge their effort. Accuracy will become far more important than it is now because doctors may start telling their patients “OK, you’ve got a monitor, just make sure you’re walking 5,000 steps/day.”
Based on the unscientific results above there could be a 25% discrepancy and if you’re managing your health, that’s simply not good enough. Furthermore, if you’re in an employer incentive plan like what my company (Make It Count) offers, some people are going to have to work much harder to get the same reward, and that’s not fair. And when things aren’t fair in the workplace… well, that’s when people start calling their lawyers.
I’m going to be visiting my local track in the next few days to do some more rigorous testing. I’ll still be the only guinea pig, but it’s a start. Stay tuned.
This modest little button of a device has shattered my carefully crafted preconceptions about the utility of this form factor. I haven’t been impressed by the other fobs available to date – they usually need tapping or shaking to enter commands and you can never be sure if you’re actually communicating with the device, if they tell the time you’re lucky, and comprehending the display is too often a joke.
None of that holds true with the Jawbone UP Move thanks to the circular display similar to the Misfit Shine, the dial itself serves as a button so you can be sure of the commands you’re entering, and in general I’ve found myself delighted with this device and that’s rare. Furthermore, not only have I had to revise my opinion of fobs in general, the Move has turned in the highest score yet here on BMR.
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That journey quickly led to Philippe Kahn, CEO of Fullpower, the makers of MotionX. If that’s a familiar name it’s with good reason – Philippe is the former CEO of Borland, founder of Starfish Technologies, inventor of the camera phone, leader of the Pegasus Racing sailing team, and holder of endurance sailing records (a pursuit that calls for performance and decision making optimization under conditions of serious sleep deprivation). There’s plenty more, but back to our topic.
What follows is based on recent exchanges with Fullpower intended to bring greater clarity to what MotionX does and why it’s important. Currently, MotionX solutions can be found in the Jawbone UP and UP24, Nike+ running products, and the MotionX 24/7 app found in the iPhone App Store (where it alternates between first and second place on Medical category’s top seller list). Let’s start by digging into the technology’s various facets:
On their own, fitness bands contain a fair amount of miniaturized technology which typically includes processors, an accelerometer, a battery, and an antenna, usually Bluetooth. That’s just the hardware. Software is required to make these components function and work together properly to support power management, communications, and critically, data interpretation and collection.
On its own, an accelerometer can detect movements and send those signals to be processed and stored. From this point it gets complicated in a big way – particularly if accuracy and reliability are high priorities. The key challenge is how to interpret the signals coming from the accelerometer and distinguishing between a stride, a run, a handshake, or another Dorito chip.
It turns out that Fullpower has mastered this interpretive process the hard way – with time and painstaking effort. To begin with, activity monitors are usually worn on the wrist or arm, or carried in a pocket. As a result, products like the Jawbone UP must be carefully calibrated or “tuned” in order to accurately interpret and estimate what the wearer is doing.
There are different approaches to solving this problem. One way is to adapt commonly available algorithms like those designed to protect laptop hard drives in the event of a fall; another is to partner with research institutes which have a focus area on this topic and then adapt their work; and a third is Fullpower’s.
In broad, suitable-for-publication terms, Fullpower has invested many years of effort developing a rigorous approach to measuring and estimating natural human motion. Part of this process is includes video footage, inertial measurement unit (IMU) recordings and other undisclosed techniques, all performed 24/7, because sleep has to be studied too. These data are compared to the data being reported by the activity monitor with the net effect that this comparison and verification process greatly reduces errors in the estimation process by eliminating questions like “did the subject just twitch their arm or did they roll over while asleep?” Or, “is the subject running or are they just shaking their leg during a meeting?”. The video analysis can be conclusive and this knowledge can be factored (literally) into the algorithm development process. Repeating this process over the course of years, with many different people, activities, and situations yields a high level of precision backed by a very large and unique data set which only gets more accurate over time. This process doesn’t just apply to tracking steps – it plays a central role in developing sleep cycle alarms and more.
As an aside, another result of this kind of original research is a substantial intellectual property (IP) portfolio of early, seminal patents that have been awarded with many more awaiting approval. In Fullpower’s case, these patents cover more than just algorithms – they go on to include wearable devices, health/fitness/medical patents, sensor-related patents, and more. The net effect is that Fullpower has created a significant asset that can be licensed to produce current, ongoing revenue streams that complement the rest of the company’s efforts. In light of the early stage of wearable technology, this is a significant achievement.
Once precision has been assured and the required computational power has been designed to minimize power consumption, the question turns to how to offload the data that has been collected and stored on the device. Today, some devices require a cable connector to transfer data to a phone or computer. Others can use a cable or Bluetooth, and yet others use Bluetooth alone. It’s possible that the low energy feature of Bluetooth v4.0 will become the standard of choice for activity monitors, but we’re still early in the evolution of these products. The MotionX platform is compatible with cable- and Bluetooth-based channels.
We’re now ready to leave the device and move through the rest of ecosystem starting with phone apps. Innovation in this part of wearable technology is alive and well – in the course of its review process BMR always includes an analysis of the associated phone app. Some are rudimentary, others are considerably more sophisticated. Regardless of the features there are some basic functions that need to be fulfilled, including retrieval of data from the device, displaying it on the phone, delivering updates, and possibly provide connections to social media. Oh, and this all has to be done reliably while maintaining an engaging and satisfying user experience. Regardless, apps are an essential part of the experience and form another important part of the overall wearable ecosystem.
From the phone, the data are sent to a cloud-based platform that does the heavy lifting of managing user accounts and their associated data, and generally serving as the coordinating management platform for these devices once they’re in the wild.
MotionX is an end-to-end ecosystem designed expressly for wearable technology. It provides all the primary functions required to make a wearable technology product work, and it does so with a very high degree of accuracy and reliability. In the course of developing MotionX, Fullpower has amassed a substantial intellectual property (IP) portfolio, and its value is likely to increase as wearable technology continues to expand its footprint in our daily lives. If MotionX is another home run, it would be perfectly at home with the rest of Philippe Kahn’s successes.]]>
BMR uses a methodical, objective approach based on criteria that are grouped into different categories including Data & Connectivity, Functions, Personalization, and Customer Support. This framework is ideally suited to head-to-head comparisons and reliably highlights the characteristics of the entire product offering, not just the device itself. Philippe Kahn, CEO of Fullpower, the makers of MotionX says “I respect Body Monitor Review’s work. Their independent, methodical approach produces rigorous analysis that will differentiate the players from the pretenders in the wearable space.”
Three fundamental trends are converging to drive demand for wearable technology, specifically products that track individual activity levels, sleep patterns, and eating habits: 1) Technology: constant advancements in computing power, miniaturization, and network connectivity; 2) Social: the United States has been waging a pitched battle against the risks of modern sedentary lifestyles; 3) Regulatory: the Affordable Care Act is fundamentally changing how healthcare is delivered and setting the stage for new consumer-level incentives (like cash payments) for using activity monitors.
Startups and global brands have been quick to introduce products to address this opportunity. Another wave of entrants with large consumer electronics product portfolios are now entering the fray. This creates an opportunity to control their home electronics and more from the same wrist band they use to track their activity. The versatility of these products will be enhanced by flexible touch screens, advancements in power management, and continued integration in our networked world. The future may not revolve around smart phones or smart watches only – the future may include “smart bands” that can be controlled by touch, voice, or via phone or computer.
About Body Monitor Review
Body Monitor Review is a thought leader in the development, use, and support of these products. Primary goals for the company include being an advocate for the nascent wearable monitoring industry and the people that use these products. The company uses a systematic method in its reviews designed to maximize objectivity and deliver clear findings that are actionable by both industry professionals and consumers alike.
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We’re at the point where consumers can knit together their own personal webs of monitors that will provide consistent results to help track their wellbeing. Wow – what’s that going to do for life expectancy?
Body Monitor Review’s head-to-head comparison of Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24, Nike+ FuelBand SE, Polar Loop here.]]>
We’ll continue to update our research as new products are launched – come check us out, comment, and get moving!]]>
By this time next year, there will likely be a number of other portfolio connections either live or at the very least, active on the roadmap.
Things are speeding up!
The Fitbit force has recorded the highest overall score in Body Monitor Review’s evaluation process and it is an excellent all around activity monitor. It delivers on all the basics such as counting steps, calculating calories and distance, along with tracking changes in elevation and serving as a wristwatch with programmable alarms.
All this goodness is topped off by an excellent mobile app (iOS and Android), food logging, and integration with the Fitbit Aria body analysis scale. You can also create custom trackers so you can follow your progress on values that matter to you – if they’re not already configured for you on Fitbit.com.
Fitbit really cut its timing close for the retail season – the Force didn’t arrive here at BMR until around mid-December. Nonetheless, with an MSRP of $129.95, the Force is an excellent choice for anyone looking for an Activity Monitor.]]>