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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014
Why fitness trackers could be big game changers
Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
March 15, 2014
First Published: 16:27 IST(15/3/2014)
Last Updated: 19:34 IST(15/3/2014)
Techilicious columnist Rajiv Makhni

Disclaimer 1: I am a complete fitness tracking nut. Any device of any kind that can tell me in numbers what my body is doing while working out and also track me for the rest of the day – I will clip/embed/pin/strap it on. There’s a term for people like me called BHS (body hacking sl*t) and while crude, it’s a very apt description.

Disclaimer 2: Vishal Gondal is a close friend and a person whose story is fascinating. When you set up a company (India Games) that you sell shortly for a $100 million (to Disney), you do qualify as someone who knows what he is doing.

Disclaimer 3: Due to the above two disclaimers, I wasn’t going to do this story as I thought there was a conflict of interest. I’m anyway overly fascinated by fitness trackers and this one comes from a company owned by a friend, but my life in the last one week has made me rethink my decision. I shall explain in more detail.

This tracker has the human element that is missing in other fitness trackers

Why Trackers fail: Now that we’ve got the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks.
Fact: Fitness tracking devices are the hottest category in tech.
Fact: There isn’t a tech company of repute in the world that isn’t coming up with one.
Fact: Fitness bands are awesome when you start off with them and then you hit a wall where you don’t see the point of all that data.
Fact: People who use fitness trackers don’t seem to think that they made them any fitter in the long run.

Fatal Flaw: If you analyse those facts, they seem to be contradictory to each other. Why would the hottest category in tech also be the one in which people don’t see any real benefit? Why are people strapping on bands and then dissing the same device? That’s because every band has one fatal flaw. It only reports on all that awesome data that your body generates – and doesn’t tell you what to do next with it. You get numbers and charts and figures and goals flying at you from all directions with absolutely no idea what to do next.

All data, no direction: I’m a fitness band junkie (I own nine different trackers) and I noticed a pattern that I followed. I would buy a new one every time something was announced, dedicate myself to its ecosystem, make changes as per what it was telling me and then sit and discuss all that new data with either a personal trainer or coach or marathon runner or anyone who I thought could tell me what my body was reporting and what to do next with it.

Most people didn’t have a clue! And that’s the fatal flaw that all this body hacking equipment has. It has no human element to guide you through all those numbers. It’s like owning the best car in the world except that it doesn’t come with a steering wheel. It has all the whiz-bang technology and features but no way to take you where you want to go.

The Human Element: GoQii (pronounced Go Key) seems to have capitalised on that flaw. It’s this very hi-tech -looking band with a curved touchscreen that can report on number of steps you’ve taken, distance covered, calories burnt, quality of sleep and even tracks the number of super active minutes in a day – but it then throws in something that no other band can do. It becomes your interface between real human professional trainers (called coaches) who monitor your stats and progress, and interact with you in real time.

From two-way messaging, specific guidance as you progress, motivation to keep you on track, check-in audio and video calls, to even vibrating your device to reward or alert you – these coaches literally hand-hold (or wrist-hold) you to make sure that everything you do and everything your band tracks has context, meaning and direction. It’s like having a personal trainer strapped to your wrist 24x7.

Be motivated by keeping track of your daily goals

But that’s the theory: While it sounded good on paper, I found it impossible to even think that a company can pull it off. This was like the holy grail of fitness trackers and something that I thought would come five years down the line. Thus, when I was given a chance to be one of the first to be part of a pilot project, I was climbing the walls to get started. My first surprise was the device itself, a nicely designed water- and sweat-resistant wedge that sits in a very snazzy-looking band.

But the device wasn’t my goal, it was the coaching that came with it. My first step towards that was a setup call I got from my allocated coach, followed by me filling out an intelligently-put-together online form that was a lesson in fitness psychology. And then I was off.

Eye Opener: I’ve only done this for about a week but here are my initial thoughts. The device itself is great, accurate and quite a conversation starter, as literally everyone who sees it wants to know more about it. But it’s the constant coaching that blows the socks off anything else I’ve ever tried. This real time coaching isn’t a hack job, as the number of things I’ve been guided on are truly revolutionary.

From sleep to nutrition to a better run to a more intense workout – the numbers and the rationale behind are set to context by a team that are true professionals and know what they’re doing.

My real-time guidance has taught me that I work out better in the evenings (I’ve always been an advocate of super early morning workouts) and that I should do my strength exercises before my cardio and not after. And these habit changers have come about in less than a week.

Despite the conflict of interest: GoQii’s taken the greatest flaw in a fitness band and made it into its biggest feature. It also has a unique business model. The band is free but you pay for the coaching only (and you can keep the band if you don’t want to pay for the coaching).

And 1,000 Indians get to be the first to be part of the pilot project before it gets a worldwide release. GoQii could be a game changer worldwide and one that really does something out of the box. And that’s the reason I finally decided to write about it despite my own apprehensions and also telling Vishal Gondal that I wouldn’t, disclaimers or not. For a true BHS – this is nirvana!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

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