THE WEEKLY HOWL IS LOOKING FOR A KILLER APP

Hardware is Hard: Jawbone, the consumer electronics and fitness wearables maker, is no more. The company will be liquidating with the CEO trying to start a new company, Jawbone Health Hub, from the ashes of the old one. So what does this tell us?

 Unlike software, which can be fixed months, or even years, after it was originally released, hardware is a much trickier proposition. Whatever advantage Jawbone had in getting the first Up through the door was lost when the company had to claw back those devices and start again. If some of the richest companies in the world can ship hardware with massive defects, what hope does a tiny startup have?

                It is worth noting that of the 5 biggest tech companies, only one (Apple) started off selling hardware. The other four (Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft) got their start in software before venturing in the world of hardware.

                And then there’s this:

It's easy to predict that the wearables market will soon crunch down, with Apple dominating the high end and Google living off its scraps. Fitness trackers, the stock in trade of companies like Fitbit and Jawbone, will become the province of cheap, mass-market brands like Misfit in the US and Xiaomi in China. The rest will be divided up between niche players like Garmin and Polar, the traditional watch industry, Nokia Health and Fitbit, for however long the latter can survive.

            In business school, one of my professors handed out these huge, red paperclips on the first day of class. It was a nice product and my professor explained that it retailed for $1. Or at least it did at one point. The company that made it was no longer in business. Because it’s not enough to make a nice product, it has to have value for the consumer. It has to have a purpose and it turned out that there was no purpose for a huge paperclip. I feel the same way about wearables at this point. There is some great technology being developed. Remember Google Glass, it may have looked stupid but it is an amazing piece of technology. But right now, it is technology in search of a purpose.

            To most people fitness trackers are just wifi-enabled pedometers. Why pay a lot of money for a device that will count your steps and upload that data to your smartphone? Wearable technology needs a killer app. A killer app is a feature of a product that is so useful or desirable to the consumer that it drives the mass adoption of that product. The most prominent examples are spreadsheet programs for the PC or online pornography for the internet. Until that killer app comes along, I feel like wearables and fitness trackers will be treading water.      

All Hail Our New Fitness Overlords: Apple is promoting the Apple Watch’s new WatchOS which will include a suite of new health and fitness capabilities. In doing so, they offered up some details about their top-secret gym/lab:

Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies, said Tuesday that Apple believes the gym-like lab—which was built before the Apple Watch was released in 2015 and uses employee volunteers as guinea pigs—has now collected more biometric data than anyone else. It has also become the largest purchaser of metabolic carts, which are used to keep tabs on oxygen consumption; it now has 50 of these machines, he said, and half of them are portable so they can be used for activities like swimming and cycling. (And employees do use them, along with a security guard, for a daily bike ride, he added.)

                The most valuable company in the world is setting its mind to fitness. I can’t wait to see where this leads. The fitness industry is so fragmented that it’s never had any large companies investing substantial resources in it. I doubt that the Apple Watch is a huge priority in Cupertino but this could still be a lot more money than anyone else has ever invested in fitness. Maybe we’ll get that killer app after all. 

Hate Read: The Independent sent someone to check out Tracy Anderson’s new gym in Manhattan. For readers who have never heard of her, she is the fitness complement to her BFF Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle nonsense. In lieu of a deep analysis, I am just going to quickly bullet-point the things that infuriated me:

-You don’t need to belong to a gym that charges $900/month in order to be fit

-You don’t need to work-out for 2 hours a day in order to be fit

-Women should not be afraid that lifting weights will make them look like a man

-Accessory muscle does not mean what Tracy Anderson thinks that it means

-There is no benefit to exercising in a very hot room

And then there’s this gem:

Tracy Anderson instructors, I learned, do not speak during their lessons. Instead of following along with the instructor’s cues, I was to watch her movements and do as she did. The entire class proceeded completely un-narrated, set only to the sounds of top-40 pop blasting from the speakers.

In theory, according to Ms Anderson, this method keeps the brain focused on the workout, and tricks the body burning more calories. In practice, it makes the whole thing exceptionally difficult, since the exercises move at light speed and seem to change every thirty seconds.

            WHAT???

Someone please send a copy to Tracy Anderson: Jo Piazza and Lucy Sykes wrote a novel, Fitness Junkie, satirizing the upscale health & wellness scene in NYC.  A scene in which people pay $500 a week for fitness classes and $12 for green juice. Sounds ripe for satire but why write a book about it?

The reason we wrote this book is that we feel very passionately that wellness shouldn’t be for this incredibly elite class. We intentionally made the main character rich to show that rich people are the only ones who can buy into this lifestyle, and I wanted to satirize how insane it’s all gotten. We’ve moved into a world where classes and diet fads are so expensive that only the 1 percent can afford them—and that’s ridiculous. The ultimate goal was to show how the latest fad isn’t what’s going to keep you healthy. It all comes down to simply eating right and moving your body.

            I could not agree more. I’m a firm believer in doing whatever works for you but fitness works best when it’s simple. I don’t begrudge anyone the disposable income necessary to do SoulCycle but I fear that people will believe that you HAVE to be rich in order to be fit. If you like a bunch of bells and whistles with your workout, that’s fine but I hate to think that people will start to think that you need a bunch of bells and whistles.

Tidbits:

-In the Tulum Jungle Gym, the weights are made of wood and the people are made of iron

-Smartphone fitness apps are designed to make you feel good, not be accurate

-A startup accelerator focused on health & fitness is launching in Baltimore

-Bruce Feldman released his annual Freaks List: Workout Warriors of College Football

-Event 2 of the CrossFit Games will have something to do with a bike