The Accidental Athlete
I own a Fitbit, but I rarely use it. When I go out for a run (don’t laugh, it happens), I have instead been using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone — because I never leave the house without my phone, and it does a good-enough job of collecting fitness data. But sometimes I do forget to turn it on.
Fortunately, there’s a new iPhone app, Moves, that constantly and persistently records my activity. It knows if I’m walking, running, cycling, or when I’m in something motorized, and it always knows where I am. It creates a record of everywhere I go, the routes I take, and by what means I travel. It tracks steps and distance. It is always with me since my phone is always with me, and more importantly it’s always on. It does impact battery life, but I can still easily make it through a day on my iPhone. I think it’s one of the coolest apps ever.
And it makes me worry about the fitness gadget market. Now, for people who are actually serious about fitness, a dedicated gadget is going to be lighter than a phone and might also provide better data. Likewise, a dedicated fitness smartphone app does more than Moves does with data — although you do have to remember to launch it and then to turn it off when you’re done, so it doesn’t devour your battery.
But for someone who’s not too terribly serious about health, Moves, and apps like it, are the future.
Here’s another example: Sleep Cycle.This app measures the quality of your sleep based on how much you move around in bed. You run the app, place the phone on your bed, and it gets your activity data from the phone’s accelerometer. It competes with the Lark, and other multi-use movement trackers (like the Fitbit again), and Sleep Cycle is limited in obvious ways compared to devices that you wear, but if you’re curious about your sleep patterns (and you sleep alone), it’s a great start. As a bonus, it’s also an alarm clock that wakes you up when you’re in a shallow phase of sleep, instead of potentially jolting you out a deep slumber as a non-aware alarm clock will.
These casual trackers could be great gateways to more serious products. Or, more likely, threats to an industry that’s just getting started. Several people in the health space told me the serious athlete or body measurement nut will go for a more accurate, wearable device. But I fear this perspective may be wishful.
It is true that a Lark, Up, Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, or Leikr watch will collect better data than an app like Moves, which actually requires a cloud server farm to process raw data from phones in order to accurately report on activity. But casual, persistent, phone-based activity trackers are going to get better. And they have the advantage of being automatically integrated into their users’ lives. The data they collect can correlate with GPS data, with calendars, and even social network data. Just as the cameras in smartphones are more-often used than dedicated cameras even when a standalone camera would take a better picture, the persistent, always-aware body tracking app is likely to put serious hurt on the low end of the emerging body-tracking gadget market.
I’m more interested in the upside, though. The idea that your phone can serve as a persistent monitor to your body is fascinating. It’s easy to poke fun at or be scared of a device that literally knows what you’re doing all the time, but there’s a ton of opportunity in analyzing this data for users’ benefit. I am eager to see where this market goes.
Audio version of this column
See me at SXSWedu!
Come to my panel, Raising the Modern Geek, with Stephan Turnipseed, president of LEGOEducation
A message from Evernote
Build knowledge. Share ideas. Get things done. Evernote Business.Back to Top