THE WEEKLY HOWL IS CUBA-BOUND

Wearables: Endgadget had a great article this week on smartwatches and the upcoming race to have the best selection of apps. Cherlynn Low likened it to how the success of the iPhone was made possible by the App Store. And she offered an explanation for why FitBit and Samsung developed their own OS instead of going with Android Wear:

First, let's quickly recap the three operating systems we're discussing. With the Fitbit Ionic, the wearables maker also debuted it’s first-ever smartwatch OS, called Fitbit OS. We'll also look at Samsung's Tizen OS as well as Garmin's own platform. There's a reason these companies came up with their own software instead of going with Android Wear. While we're not discussing it at length here, Google's system, as well as Apple's watch OS, are designed for a wider audience and are therefore multipurpose. These three proprietary offerings focus on health- and fitness-related functions instead, and they put these tools front and center.

                Apple is clearly committed to making the Apple Watch a fitness device and it sounds like the upcoming iteration of the WatchOS will be more fitness-focused. We’re still waiting on the rumored Google Pixel Watch so we can only speculate on Google’s smartwatch strategy. Perhaps they are hesitant to re-enter the wearables space after the Google Glass debacle. It sounds like FitBit and Samsung want to be the platform that is easiest to develop for. The conventional wisdom during the App Wars was that the iOS was easier to develop for than Android or Windows Phone so app developers typically built there first. That resulted in Apple having a more robust selection of apps than its competitors.

                The other thing that I am seeing is that smartwatch makers are pairing off with major sports & fitness companies. Nike and Apple have a long-standing relationship and it was probably the main reason that Nike exited the fitness tracker space. Now FitBit is working with Adidas to create an “athlete-focused version” of the Ionic, Samsung has announced a partnership with Speedo, and Under Armour is collaborating with HTC. I have to give a lot of credit to the leadership of Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour for investing so heavily in fitness software the last few years. They have put themselves into a good spot as the smartwatch/fitness tracker market matures and it’s usually better to be the software provider rather than the hardware manufacturer.    

One App to Rule Them All: Speaking of fitness apps, there is one that hasn’t been snapped up by Adidas or UA: Strava. For those who don’t know, Strava is an app that allows runners and cyclists to upload their workouts, analyze the data, and compare themselves to others. Men’s Journal covered the history of Strava, how it took advantage of the move to mobile and developed the Segments feature in order to attract cyclists. Now Strava wants to be the social network for exercise:

More significantly, Strava this spring introduced a new feature called Athlete Posts. It’s essentially a tool for users to create posts not tied to any particular workout. You craft a headline, write a few paragraphs (or a lot of them), maybe add a photo or two, and out it goes into your followers’ feeds. Yes, it’s a bit like Facebook—except that on Facebook, if your friends are anything like my friends, no one wants to hear about your plantar fasciitis or the precise ratio of honey to ice in your post-workout smoothie.

                I am somewhat skeptical of new social network ideas because around 5 years ago everyone and their mother tried to launch some version of one. Multiple social networks were created…for couples! But I am intrigued by Strava’s attempt for 2 reasons. The first is that they already have the eyeballs. Social networks live and die by the network effect. The network effect makes it difficult to get going and then extremely valuable once built up. Strava already has the users so they have a leg up. The second reason is that there is a pain point that they could solve. People like to talk about their workouts but most people don’t want to hear about your workouts. It’s like hearing about someone else’s dreams. (Note to self: start social media site where people post about their dreams) A social network that connects people who want to talk about their workouts has definite potential. The biggest obstacle will be the saturation of social media:

So far, Roll, who has nearly 13,000 followers, has posted about getting enough rest (“We love to competitively share our sessions here on Strava. But what if we translated that competitiveness into how we rest?”) and his smoothie routine (“tons of organic veggies and fruits, always starting with dark leafy greens”). But...  that’s it. He hasn’t posted since May 8, although his Strava training log is up-to-the-minute.

In fact, several other of Roll’s cohort don’t really post much apart from their workouts. Which isn’t to say it’s a failure—just that some may find that Facebook or Instagram suit their voices or audiences better.

                There are only so many hours in the day and updating/checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and then Strava may prove to be a little too much.

Age is just a number: TomTom is rolling out a new feature on its wearable devices that will calculate your fitness age. They will accomplish this by measuring your VO2 Max and then comparing it to other people. VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can consume during exercise. Garmin launched a similar feature but didn’t have anything that looked like a test. I hope that TomTom will at least attempt to test VO2 Max instead of just estimating. Also, if you’re going to calculate someone’s fitness age, then you should include more than just VO2 Max.

iGym: Ben Court from Men’s Health got the opportunity to go inside Apple’s secret exercise lab in Silicon Valley. What he saw in Cupertino was very impressive:

The labels are appropriate, because the company that transformed the way you enjoy music and video is now sinking its teeth into a meatier challenge: new ways you can optimize your health. “Our lab has collected more data on activity and exercise than any other human performance study in history,” says Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies, in a rare interview. “Over the past five years, we’ve logged 33,000 sessions with over 66,000 hours of data, involving more than 10,000 unique participants.” A typical clinical trial enrolls fewer than a hundred participants.

All of this sweaty data, gleaned from swimmers to yogis, gets crunched by motion experts who work in a double-secret lab (we weren’t invited to that one) to continually update the Apple Watch’s algorithms. The team wants the feedback to be as accurate as possible for as many activities as possible. This fall’s watchOS 4 upgrade, for example, will include high-intensity interval training. There’s also a new technology platform: The watch will pair with cardio machines—including Life Fitness and Technogym—as the first ever real-time two-way connection. You can monitor your training more precisely with no friction. Even if you never strap on an Apple Watch, you can learn much from the company’s research.

Apple is one of the most secretive companies ever. It is interesting that they are letting journalists take a peak under the hood. Their normal M.O. is to keep everything under wraps so that they can wow everyone when the finished product is debuted. Granted, Apple is not letting anyone see the next Apple Watch but they are going out of their way to demonstrate their commitment to fitness. I’m wondering who this is all for though. Is it for the app developers? So that they will choose the watchOS as the go-to platform for fitness apps. Or for Apple’s competitors in smartwatches? So that they know that trying to compete with the world’s most valuable company is futile. Or for consumers? So we all know that watchOS 4 is being designed around fitness & health. Perhaps Apple realized that the Watch wasn’t getting the amount of speculation and free publicity that its products usually received leading up to a launch and wanted to prime the pump. The keynote event, where watchOS4 will be officially introduced, is on September 12.

Fitness Marketing: Business Insider published an article on The Wellery, an entire floor of Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan dedicated to health and wellness. Basically, Saks has built a 16,000 square foot gym/spa. There are group exercise classes, detoxification rooms, guided meditation, laser treatments, fat-freezing procedures, and of course plenty of opportunities to purchase athletic apparel and equipment. I recommend following the link just to see the pictures. This is also the article that I would point people to if they wanted to know what fitness marketing is. Fitness is becoming the way that retailers generate foot traffic. Your local shopping mall might do it with a big box gym and high-end retailers like Saks will do it with boutique fitness classes and spa treatments.

Motivation: Believe it or not, people are still starting up exercise-rewards apps. Kilter Rewards is one of the newest ones. They saw the failure of Pact (formerly GymPact) and decided that the problem was that people wanted redeemable credits not cash. Kilter will award users credits for going to the gym. These credits can be used to buy coffee, food, and athletic apparel. I don’t see how a $1 Starbucks coupon is going to be effective when straight cash wasn’t. I am going to assume that Kilter is using credits because they negotiated a way to get those credits for less than their dollar value. And now they are trying to make it sound like that will be some kind of advantage. I am curious as to what their monetization strategy is. Pact took from the un-fit in order to give to the fit. Kilter is talking about a freemium model in which users can join for free but their rewards will be capped. I don’t see that working. They are going to have a hell of a time getting people to pay for a subscription. Plus, you can’t pay people to work out. It doesn’t work. The people starting these companies (as well as the people that are funding them) don’t understand what motivates people to get and stay fit.

                If they want to learn, then this would be a great place to start. Brad Stulberg is the co-author of Peak Performance and a former management consultant and White House staffer. From Quartz:

The same logic applies to areas beyond diet and exercise—whether our goals involve parenting, relationships, careers, or our creative ambitions. Research shows that the problem with focusing too much on end results and big goals is that they’re too black and white: you either achieve the goal or you don’t. If you do achieve them, then it’s all too easy to get carried away basking in the glory. You’re liable to become complacent and next thing you know, you’ve already fallen behind your competition. If you fail to achieve your big goals, however, then the opposite holds true: you’re likely to become sad, lose motivation, and in the worst-case scenario, burn out and quit whatever it is you were doing altogether.

Psychologists call this mindset “obsessive passion”—when a person’s drive is fueled not by how much they enjoy a given activity, but by external results, recognition, and rewards. Obsessive passion is linked to anxiety, cheating, depression, and burnout.

                Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Which one do you think that redeemable credits falls under? I am adding this book to my Amazon wish list.

First World Problems: In case you need a reminder that fitness can be cheap as you need it to be, the Pioneer explored the burgeoning fitness scene in Cuba. No one has any money or fancy equipment. Getting any equipment at all is a battle. But that isn’t stopping people from pursuing their fitness goals. They build their own equipment from spare parts and open gyms in their backyards. Just a bunch of people who want to be better than they were the day before.

TidBits:

-New Guinness world records for Most Pull-ups in 1 minute: Men-51 Women-31 (by CrossFit Games winner Tia Toomey)

-You can buy Star Wars themed kettlebells now

-No, EMS is just another fad