On Wednesday May 8th, Enola Labs CTO Marcus Turner gave a presentation to The Austin Professional Mobile Developers Group entitled “The Human App Instrument” that touched on several aspects of the current state of the Self Tracking Movement (Quantified Self).
The quantitative self economy features several activity monitoring devices as well as hundreds of applications that can track several aspects of your life. Turner believes that the problem with these applications is that they are disparate. They function and churn data for an individual independent of the other facets of human existence. Sure, an app can tell you how long you slept last night and can even illustrate your sleep cycle in an impressive visualization and analytical interface—but can it extrapolate that information to tell you how that data will affect your mood, efficiency and behavior throughout the day?
Below, we highlight some of the current activity monitoring devices and applications Turner made note of during his presentation and provide a brief synopsis of where he believes the movement is headed in the future.
The Jawbone UP is a wristband that tracks hours slept, light vs. deep sleep, waking moments, distance traveled, calories burned, active time, activity intensity, and nutritional intake (complete with a nutritional database and barcode scanner). Last week, they also acquired BodyMedia and launched their own UP platform in an effort to let other companies integrate their services with Jawbone’s data. It’s possible that the acquisition will fill in some of the gaps that Jawbone has. For example, BodyMedia’s Core 2 armband has the ability to track heart rate, heat flux, sweat, and more sophisticated motion inputs—all areas where the Jawbone is currently remiss.
While the Jawbone seems to be on a quest to encompass as much sensory input as possible, Nike has contented themselves with a much more focused product. The Fuelband is ideal for people who enjoy setting goals for themselves and then tracking the progress they’ve made towards reaching them. It does this using a 3-axis accelerometer to measure your motion, then based on your height and weight it provides an estimate of your calories burned, steps taken and overall distance covered. It also sports 20 LEDs that gradually go from red to green as you approach your target, which is a nice touch.
The FitBit One is more like the Jawbone than the Fuelband in its holisticity, and at $99.95 it’s also the cheapest of the three devices. It tracks steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled, stairs climbed, hours slept, and quality of sleep—plus, it’s highly integrated with social media networks. One advantage the FitBit One has over the Jawbone is that you can pair it with another FitBit device known as the Aria, which is a Wi-Fi enabled bathroom scale, where all your weigh-ins will be logged automatically. This particular device is not a wristband—rather something you have to clip on somewhere—but FitBit did release their FitBit Flex earlier this month. This device seems to have all the capabilities of the FitBit One, but it’s wrapped up nicely into a snazzy wristband.
So those are the major players in the wearable computing game. But what about independent apps? These were also mentioned in Turner’s talk. Here are some of the most prominent ones.
This is a health tracking app for the iPhone and iPad that supports multiple user profiles. Tactio Health evaluates your weight, height, body fat, waist size, blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol, and glucose. Moreover, it can provide you with health risk assessments for cardiovascular diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
After providing the app with some personal information, Macaw starts out by giving you a “health appraisal.” This consists of such questions as, “Do you smoke cigarettes?”, “How often do you engage in physical activity?”, “How often do you eat foods high in unhealthy fats?” and so on. The app is flexible enough to allow the user to go back and change their answers to these questions in the future. Once you’re done with that, the app gives you some goals to work towards and the progress you make on them will be tracked.
OmegaWave is meant to be used by people who frequently engage in physical training. It comes equipped with a comprehensive dashboard that tells you the state of your cardiac and metabolic systems. People who buy the OmegaWave package will get an ECG Sensor Belt that analyzes your cardiac fatigue, stress level, and adaptation reserves. The app also provides you with physiological feedback to guide your training: if you’re pushing too hard or not hard enough, OmegaWave will let you know.
As evidenced by the name, DiabetesPlus is perfect for diabetic individuals who want convenient access to important statistics, among them average blood glucose, insulin dosage, carbohydrates, and HbA1c. It can also track sport activities, blood pressure, pulse, and weight. What’s especially nice about this app is that it can take all the foregoing data and roll it up into a clean PDF that can be e-mailed to your doctor.
TicTrac is all over the place, which is all the better for the user to decide how they want to utilize it. It runs the gamut of monitoring capabilities, ranging from health and physical activity to social activity. It even allows for “fundraising tracking.” Ultimately, TicTrac’s goal is to help users make the most of their personal data by doing such things as monitoring weight fluctuations against sleep patterns, physical activity, and stress levels to pinpoint the cause of the weight change. Speaking to Turner’s call for synthesis, TicTrac also has plans to pair users with health & data experts who can draw custom insights from their logged data and also create personalized projects for them based on those insights.
Last month, Qualcomm and WebMD teamed up to create 2nethub, an open ecosystem of digital health apps & 3rd party devices. 2nethub basically allows the user to wirelessly sync their biometric data to a “system designed for security and interoperability.” The point of this tool is to allow consumers and physicians alike to pick solutions that suit healthcare needs.
The Quantitative Self movement is making great strides every day. How much further do we have to go before we see the one magical device that knows us better than we could ever know ourselves? Turner believes that we can get there, however the road will not be easy.
The existing app model is specialized and self-contained. Turner asks, “What barriers are preventing the data in these applications from being correlated to draw specific comprehensive patterns for you? In other words, how can we go from the current fragmented and often overly simplistic model into a model that synthesizes that disparate data into a more holistic assessment of your behavior?’
Turner believes the only way to get to this point is open frameworks and a coordinated effort between device manufacturers, application developers, data analysts and health professionals. Although the execution of his plan is complex, giving our mobile connected world the ability to make meaningful decisions about their health from the palms of their hands can have a lasting impact on human wellness and quality of life across the globe.