A while ago I blogged about early impressions of the Fitbit One, the fitness tracker that I’ve used since early 2013. I noted that it was promising, but limited in its usefulness because the Fitbit One is unable to report accurate data on some of my favorite activities: yoga, kayaking and cycling.
Since then I’ve continued using the Fitbit everyday but remain annoyed at its limitations. That said, I’ve persuaded my husband and half a dozen family members and friends to buy their own fitness tracking devices. My husband lost his device, but most of my friends still use theirs daily. He hasn’t replaced his device, which is in itself a comment on the fact that it doesn’t work for his preferred activities.
Your Conscience in Your Pocket
My friends, sisters and I all use our trackers for similar reasons: they’re a handy motivator to be more active, climb more stairs, go for longer walks; or get better sleep.
For me it’s like having a fitness conscience in my pocket — a daily reminder that my desk-bound daily work is not healthy for long periods of time. Fitbit One has been a good start, but its days are numbered.
Change Is in the Offing
It’s clear that the fitness device industry is on the verge of a big transition point, triggered by Apple. This is a make-or-break moment for smaller players like Fitbit.
If you follow this arena at all, you know that Apple is about to disrupt the health and fitness market with its IOS Health app, the improved motion tracking capabilities of the new iPhone, the new Apple Watch and its strategy for HealthKit.
You can expect a whole ecosystem of health and wellness apps to be built around the Apple Watch, IOS devices and the HealthKit ecosystem. Major players are already working on them behind the scenes.
As a signal of upcoming change for today’s fitness incumbents, online pundits are now writing that Apple plans to remove devices (like Fitbit) from the Apple Store if they remain incompatible with HealthKit. Typical Apple: “You either play by our rules, or you don’t get to play the game with us in our global marketplace.”
If you’ve followed the iTunes and iTunes Store playbook, this is a defining moment for devices that choose to remain incompatible with Apple’s strategic software/ecosystem moves…
As a high tech industry member I predict that we’ll see lots of interim confusion and consumer fragmentation until the ecosystem shakes out. Most likely Apple and Google will contend for the lead position as the cornerstone for health and fitness management via consumer devices. In the meantime consumers will buy today’s devices, not realizing they should really be thinking about whose ecosystem they feel most comfortable joining. Many will unknowingly choose a device, only to learn that it’s incompatible with their Apple or Google ecosystems.
What’s the Right Fit for the Next Gen Tracking Device?
Every time the tech industry goes through one of these upheavals, you see competition between two different philosophies: the “all in one” (we do everything) approach versus the specialized devices optimized to do one or a few things exceptionally well.
I find myself wondering which alternative will win out, and which will be best for me.
The Apple Watch and IOS 8 devices like the new iPhone 6 are contending for the lead “all in one role” — at least for widely practiced, mainstream fitness activities that are easy to measure.
I have no information that would lead me to believe that the new Apple devices, version 1.0, will be designed to support yoga or kayaking. Cycling is more mainstream so it’s more likely to be supported early on. So that leads me to suspect I’ll be relegated to buying assorted specialty devices, the ones that integrate with HealthKit and my iPhone 6.
Given my preferred physical activities and the differences among them, I’m likely to prefer a small unobtrusive device that integrates with HealthKit and sends data to my iPhone. That said, the device would need much more motion-related smarts than is available with my current Fitbit One.
Here are some of the requirements for my ideal tracker:
- It would be small and easy to wear (or hide) for yoga classes at my local studio.
- It would be savvy about yoga poses and their relative effort or energy expended.
- It would make more intelligent guesses about the distance covered when cycling and the relative effort expended to cover that distance (speed, hills climbed, etc.)
- It would be waterproof or come with a waterproof packaging option, for peace of mind while kayaking.
- If I were younger, I’d want a device that knows the difference between walking, hiking, running or jogging.
Yoga Is Special
The ideal device would be capable of detecting and measuring different kinds of movement and positions in space while doing yoga poses. Upright or inverted, for starters… Surely a headstand or shoulder stand, even though motionless, should count as more difficult, consuming more calories, then standing upright in Mountain Pose. After all it takes more energy to balance upside down on one’s head and hands than it takes to stand upright in a more normal posture.
Even though my iPhone 6 has decent built-in tracking capabilities, bringing a mobile phone into a public yoga studio is a huge no-no. If the Apple Watch makes noises for incoming phone calls, it too is likely to be banned from studios.
Plus, there’s no good way to wear a big phone while wearing yoga gear and practicing yoga. You can’t readily strap the phone to your wrist or upper arm because it could easily get in the way of specialized poses or inversions. It could smack you in the face during Downward Facing Dog if you hung your phone around your neck. It could easily fall from a pouch onto the floor, and possibly break from the impact.
The Apple Watch looks like it’s going to be too big to wear to a yoga studio. Plus, it’s too flashy, too eye-catching, designed to call attention to itself — antithetical to yogic principles of non-attachment. That’s why something small that could be stowed inside a tank top would be a better option for yoginis who want to track yoga for fitness reasons without calling attention to what they’re doing.
Is Yoga That Difficult?
It’s hard to understand why there are no yoga-savvy tracking devices today. Surely, this is an easy problem to solve, given the right math and physics.
There’s a limited “vocabulary” of common yoga poses, and each one is very well understood. Many resources have been published on the subject.
I would think it would be easy to teach the yoga motion vocabulary to a tracking sensor, including pose variations across the schools of yoga…
Something Different Is Coming, Someday
All I can predict at this moment is that something, reasonably soon, is going to dislodge my Fitbit One from my fitness wardrobe…
If Lululemon weren’t so preoccupied with its ongoing quality and inventory management issues, I might have expected a Lulu-branded device for yoga fans. Or maybe Manduka.