Moov Now's athletic performance tracking: working hard

I blogged about an upcoming event that I am training for – see here.

I have now received the two Moov Now devices that I ordered and have started to use them to track my training. My order was part of a pre-order ‘early bird’ offer that enabled me to buy at a discounted rate of $49.99 per device. The normal price is $79.99. Since placing my pre-order and receiving the devices, Moov Now has become available in broad distribution across the US, UK and other markets. It’s also available in Apple stores. This reflects Moov’s iOS optimization – Android is second, other OSs are not supported.

Moov Now devices Moov back of package

Many activity trackers claim to track athletic performance, but few do. Smart watches are also muscling-in on this area; most can track steps and some can monitor heart rate. However the range of activities that smartwatches and activity trackers can monitor is limited. The level of sophistication in how they monitor movement is confined to tracking steps based on movement detected by the on-board accelerometer. Other information such as GPS data, for example, is imported from the smartphone.

Some watches – especially those made by companies like Garmin, Polar and TomTom, are capable of using native GPS data. These watches typically also include capability to track heart rate and other athletic performance data. Some, such as the upper tier products from Garmin and TomTom, can also provide detailed swimming related data – traditionally a sport that’s hard to track.

Moov is one of a new breed of activity tracker now coming to market that offers more rounded sets of performance data and guided coaching sessions. We have been testing the Moov Now tracker – the second generation of Moov’s activity trackers.

Prior to receiving the Moov Now devices. I had been using a Fitbit Flex for around a year. The Fitbit performs a decent basic job of tracking numbers of steps. The Fitbit app itself can receive more detailed exercise information from companion apps, for example Strava. However the range of information it is able to detail in the application is limited and doesn’t evolve significantly. After using for a few months, the novelty wore off – along with the utility. I found that I was increasingly leaving the Fitbit device off my wrist and not missing it. One immediate benefit is that the Moov Now devices are powered by standard CR2032 coin-type batteries that are claimed to last up to six months with normal use. This means there is no irritating need to constantly recharge the device – something of a nuisance with the Fitbit.

In terms of tracking activity, the Moov system is based on a different philosophy. It is designed around a relatively small number of specific sports or activities:

  • Running and walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • 7 Minute workout (essentially bodyweight exercises)
  • Cardio-boxing

The Moov device is small and worn either on the wrist or ankle depending on the sport being tracked. The device contains three sensors – accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer – that work together to provide highly accurate nine-axis movement tracking. Data from the device is used to reconstruct the user’s movements in 3D and forms the basis for providing feedback, not only on the activity, but also form – for example whether the user is performing a jab or hook in cardio boxing, or extending their stride properly while running. Moov claim the technology is used in strategic missiles. We have not verified this claim but the movement tracking, as rendered in cardio-boxing for example, is accurate and very sensitive with almost zero latency.

The really clever computational work is driven by the smartphone or tablet, rather than the Moov Now device; the device merely reports movement data that is then interpreted by the application – either locally, or in Moov’s cloud-based servers.

Rather than tracking activity in general – which the Moov Now device does do – it is optimized for the five activities mentioned above and provides real-time feedback and coaching advice – except when swimming. The user selects the activity and then a particular workout from a predefined set of possible workouts. The app then uses data flowing from the device to provide real-time feedback on performance and form, and encourages the user to improve any of a number of metrics.

Each workout is graded as a ‘level’ much as in game play. You can’t advance to the next level until you’ve completed the requisite number of reps or hit certain performance markers. This game play element is the key to keeping users engaged and coming back for more – even when the workouts are tough. There are currently 12 programs and 200 levels among the five sports. However Moov is updating this on a regular basis.

Surpassing the highest level is likely unachievable for most people as they’re based on the performance parameters set by some supreme athletes. For example in the running workouts Moov used data from Hicham El Guerrouj who is the current mile (1600 m) world record holder at 3:43 and a cadence of approximately 210 steps per minute. So to beat the toughest workouts requires something like world record performance levels. I won’t be troubling those any time soon.

In addition to feedback during the workout, the application provides detailed information that the user can review once the workout has been completed. The following are screens from one of my longer runs which featured a 5km race mid-way through.


The co-founder of Moov, Meng Li was a competitive swimmer from an early age. Devices capable of tracking swimming activity are few in number. Garmin and TomTom’s top end devices do a decent job – but the Garmin devices, in particular, are quite bulky and expensive ($449 for the Garmin 920XT). The Moov device is minimal by comparison and relatively low cost.

However what Moov cannot do is provide real-time updates during the swimming session – the device has no screen. Unlike the running, cycling or other activities, you initiate the swimming workout in the smartphone application and then leave the smartphone in your bag or locker. Once the swimming session has been completed you sync the device with the application, whereupon you can review the workout details. The following are screen shots from a recent swimming session:


Cardio boxing is not something I have engaged in for many years. I once attended some gym classes in cardio boxing. In the Moov Now version of Cardio Boxing two Moov Now devices can be used. With two Moov Now devices worn on the wrists the workout takes on a strong game play element with targets that need to be ‘smashed’ by using the appropriate punch. Points are awarded for a combination of power, movement precision and timing. The effect is quite addictive, though the workouts are hard.

It is this element of gameplay and engagement that has been missing from standard activity trackers like those from Fitbit.

Moov will not be alone for long

I have been impressed with the performance of the Moov Now devices and application. It manages to be informative, motivational but still fun. It keeps me wanting to come back for more.

Jawbone has been offering some coaching advice for some time, though not real time.

Fitbit however is not standing still and will likely release new devices that offer similar functionality to the Moov Now devices and applications – including coaching. In addition Fitbit will likely add to the heart rate monitoring it already offers in some of its devices. Additional sensors could, for example, monitor blood oxidation, blood pressure or stress levels.

I will post my observations as my training continues to progress.

By: Peter

Activity trackers :: OK up to a point

A number of seemingly unrelated events have occurred recently. However they all have a bearing on each other and the development of the wearables market:

1. Fitbit announced it was seeking to raise $100m in an IPO

Fit bit Fitbit Flex

2. Apple updated the firmware for its Watch. One of the updates has been to modify the way the Apple Watch monitors the wearer’s heart rate. Apple Watch initially attempted to regularly monitor heartrates in the background. It will still attempt to check the heartrate every 10 minutes, but not if the wearer is moving. The Watch will attempt to monitor heart rate continuously in workout mode. The likely issue that Apple is addressing, although it has not said so publicly, is one of extending battery life. However we believe an additional reason will be accuracy related. To enable accurate readings the light-based monitoring system needs to pattern match blood capillaries below the skin’s surface. Movement of the Watch relative to the wrist will disrupt this contact and its ability to accurately monitor heart rates will be disrupted.

3. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report this week on the, literally, growing epidemic of obesity. Europe’s growing obesity crisis will see almost three-quarters of men and two-thirds of women in the UK being overweight in 15 years. Projections by the World Health Organisation and UK-based researchers highlight a problem “of enormous proportions” facing many countries over the next decade and a half. The report provides statistics for 57 countries that are based on analysis of existing data for 2010 and projections which involved the UK Health Forum. The group warns that the data is inconsistent and incomplete. But even allowing for statistical irregularities anyone who walks around European and American cities can’t help but notice that people’s weight is becoming a serious cause for concern and more importantly for governments and public health services a potentially massive drain on public finances. The forecasts make for staggering reading. They suggest that in Ireland, 89% of men and 85% of women in the country will be overweight or obese by 2030. In the UK, the comparable figures will be 74% for men and 64% for women, up from 70% and 59% respectively in 2010.

WHO logo close-up_of_fat_stomach_bursting_through_shirt


So the questions become ones of what can be done and how can technologies like Fitbit or Apple Watch help alleviate the obesity epidemic?

A person’s weight has broadly two key drivers that can be summarized as: energy consumed minus energy expended. The processes are highly complex but for most people most of the time if the equation is biased toward excess energy consumption it will lead to weight gain and if energy expenditure regularly exceeds energy consumed weight will be lost.

Activity tracking computing devices in the form of heart rate monitors, cycling computers etc have been available for many years. Most active sports enthusiasts have been through several models from companies including Garmin, Polar and Suunto. Athletes have long understood the need to monitor and quantify their performance as part of a formal training program or more spontaneous personal development.

More recently activity trackers such as those from Fitbit as well as Jawbone, Misfit and increasingly now in smart watches including Apple Watch, Android Wear and others based on proprietary OSs, have brought a more approachable and fun way to quantify a person’s level of activity. If these lead to people moving more it can only be a good thing. However increasing energy expenditure through moving more is only one part of the equation. And while important it is only a small part of the story. If I were to jump up from my desk and run 8km in 45 minutes — something I try to do a few times a week, my calorie expenditure will roughly equate to a couple of Mars bars, or a few apples (the healthier option). In other words it takes a lot of extra effort to move the needle significantly on energy expenditure. In a world where people are pressured at work and in their social lives, squeezing-in an hour’s walk, run or cycle is something that’s all too easily squeezed-out of their schedule.

This means there should be more focus on energy consumption — because for most people, most of the time, what they eat is the driver of body mass. It gets more complicated still, because not all calories are created equal; the human body’s response to 100 calories worth of sugar is very different to its response to 100 calories of fat. Science has yet to fully understand all the processes at work. The challenge is trying to conduct carefully controlled studies across a sufficiently significant cross section of the population and over a long enough period of time — many years. It’s more or less impossible. This leads to the conflicting reports that pepper the daily news flow and serve to confuse rather than enlighten.

myfitnesspal logo
MyFitnessPal App

The best we can do currently is to use applications for tracking food consumption such as MyFitnessPal. These have astonishingly comprehensive food databases, but even the best are cumbersome to use. Doing so on the go, in the ebb and flow of daily life, is a test of dedication that few are willing to undertake. And the nutrition tracker that’s included in the Fitbit application is no where near as good as MyFitnessPal. The issue with all nutrition trackers is that they require the user to manually input everything they eat. This requires knowing precise weights and measures of foods consumed. Just about okay if the food consumed is a packaged item — like a Mars bar, but a portion of, say, home-cooked vegetable curry is almost impossible to do with any precision.

As a result the best trackers, including the much vaunted Apple Watch, can only tell the user approximately how much walking, running, cycling or stair climbing has been done. And independent tests of their accuracy at tracking energy expended in the form of calories burned, are laughably inaccurate. So when it comes to assessing the ‘Energy Consumed minus Energy Expended’ equation, one side of the equation is barely addressed and the other grossly inaccurate.

So while it is a nascent market and early adopters are notoriously fickle, we shouldn’t be surprised that on current evidence many people start using trackers but a lot also give up using them after a short time.

Looking longer term we can see a number of segments of potential users of activity trackers:

1. Those that are dedicated fitness enthusiasts. Many will already use advanced fitness and activity tracking devices such as a Garmin Forerunner (image below). These people may also be adopters of simpler activity trackers to capture their non-sports related activity.

2. People who are moderately active and would like to understand their activity better and gain motivation to improve their level of activity.

3. People who are in poor shape but want to change and who really need help in getting on to a better path.

4. People who are in poor shape, but don’t care and are unlikely to be motivated to do anything unless forced to do so by medical practitioners and even then are unlikely to become long term users.

Garmin Forerunner 920XT GPS-enabled watch

The WHO study suggests the numbers of people in groups 3 and 4 will grow rapidly over the next few years across developed markets and increasingly also in developing markets as the so-called diseases of affluence (diabetes, coronary heart disease etc) take hold.

Single function activity trackers such as Fitbit are application specific while devices like the Apple Watch are multi-purpose. Is there any reason to think that Apple Watch will enjoy more sustained usage?
There are many reasons why activity tracking adopters stop using them after a few weeks to a few months. The following are likely significant factors:

  • Synchronizing the tracker with smartphone apps can be a hit and miss affair, even with the best trackers. Without this link the devices rapidly become useless appendages that offer little incentive to continue their use.
  • People find the goals, for example 10,000 steps per day, to be beyond their reach. They feel defeated and stop using.
  • People have inflated expectations about how their fitness will change. When it doesn’t they become disillusioned and stop using them.

The net result is that people will tend to take up using activity trackers with good intentions, but sooner or later most have given up.

Smart watches that also track activity may fare better because the other functions they offer may be sufficient to warrant continued usage. The cost is also likely to be an incentive to continue using a smart watch. The cost-per-day for half a year’s use of an activity tracker that cost $100 is obviously much lower than for a smart watch costing many hundreds of dollars.

Apple Watch 2

So what does this all mean for makers of activity tracking technology and for people more broadly?

Our view is that anything that draws attention to how much (or how little) a person moves and provides a gentle nudge to do more must be a good thing. For the makers of activity trackers there will continue to be millions of people for whom activity tracking should be of greater focus. Smart watches that offer activity tracking among a range of other applications will likely achieve more sustained usage.

However the one area that can make the greatest difference to human health — tracking food consumption and encouraging health-oriented changes — remains an elusive goal.

Top Mobile Devices Trends in 2014

Technologically speaking there has never been a dull year in mobile industry. Every year promises and brings in new technologies, disruptions, business models and lots of surprises and we hope 2014 will be another great year for mobile devices segment. Let’s see what we expect to happen in 2014.


Multiple Cores are fine but where is the Memory?

Dual Core processors will continue to dominate sub US$100 smartphones but the differentiation and competition in 2014 will shift to the point to see which vendor (Tier-1 or Tier 4) offers 512MB or 1GB RAM bundled at these price points first. This will unlock compatibility to upcoming platform updates and applications thus reducing fragmentation especially in Android & Windows Phone platforms. Quad-Core smartphones at sub-$100 retail price points will also be on the cards in second half of 2014. Watch out for likes of Lenovo, Samsung, Micromax and MediaTek in this space.

64 bit CPU is here but where are the apps?

Racing to get the 64-bit processors into the smartphones to win back mindshare will remain the hot topic but lack of applications written for 64 bit processing will make it an overserved feature until some OEM or platform vendors steps in to lead in 64 Bit app development (esp. For Android & after Google supports it in 2H 2014).

Watch out for likes of Apple, Qualcomm, Google, Intel and Microsoft in this segment.

LTE Phones reaching mass-market before the Networks

LTE phones which will reach mass-market (sub-US$150 retail) in mature LTE markets in 2014. OEMs will continue to supply LTE-ready phones (for scale) to newer markets and in the hands of consumers before even the LTE networks are live. LTE Device Installed base will be greater than LTE subscriber base and the trend will continue until the LTE plan pricing reaches mass market. China, USA will be the key market to drive this trend in 2014.

Additionally, many operators will leapfrog to LTE-A and hence the flurry of LTE cat-4 devices will start appearing in operator’s shelves.

Watch out for ZTE, Qualcomm, MediaTek and Samsung stimulating mass-market LTE market.

Sharper & Flexible – The New Glass

As Full HD (1080p) displays have gone mainstream at sub US$350 price-points, the battle shifts to getting either a 2K display or a Flexible display into the devices. Displays will remain the battleground for differentiation across price-bands in 2014 allowing OEM to either raise the price or reduce the price for a SKU. In the era of ‘size 0’ smartphones are trending the other way as consumers want bigger and bigger displays every time they are out for shopping their very personal device. Phablets and Tablets together are going to be US$170 Billion worth segments in 2014. Smartphones are achieving steady state towards 5-6 inch whereas tablets towards 7-8 inch formfactors. However, phablets are also poised to overtake tablets next year.

Watch out for LG, Samsung, Toshiba, Sony and Oppo to lead this trend in 2014

Imaging Kickstarts the Sub-Ecosystem wars, who will win it?

The camera resolution, OIS and low-light imaging wars have been reignited by Nokia, Sony and others in 2013 and the competition to differentiate will continue with Imaging as a key differentiator. The differentiation will come in the form of software behind the optics array imaging, 4K image and video capture, video editing on the go, image stabilization, Kinect style interactions etc. This will kickstart a whole new sub-ecosystem of already popular use-case in a mobile phone – Imaging.

Watch out for Nokia, Sony, Qualcomm & NVIDIA to dominate this space.

Wearables a segment ready for prime-time or  just forced down the consumers’ throat?

 Appcessories are great as they have revolutionized the different use-cases leveraging apps, sensors and will continue to take off in 2014 and expand across price-bands reaching mass-market.

But do consumers need or want wearables those have another display on it to interact with? Smart-wearables with displays such as smartwatches, glasses are stuck between functionality of appcessories and smartphones. For such smart-wearbles to take-off in 2014 or future years will need a whole new set of ecosystem initiated by a new set of intuitive interaction mechanisms, connectivity technologies, extraordinary battery design, specially designed applications, software and services.

 2014 won’t be the year of smartwatches or smartglasses unless OEMs fulfills the above criteria building a unique user-experience or these devices experience an iPhone moment to stimulate the demand. We see supply greater than demand as OEMs (forcefully) try to create a category out of it just to have these devices in portfolio and not being left out. Lots of work needs to be done for consumers to ‘want’ them.

Watch out for long tail of smaller startups such as Pebble, Vuzix, Omate, Misfit to players such as Epson, Symphony Teleca, Varta and bigger players such as Microsoft, Samsung, Google, Jawbone, Nissan and Sony.

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