EASYWAKEme

Sleep monitoring related offerings started surfacing in the consumer market couple of years ago. More recently EASYWAKEme, another European startup, has thrown it’s hat in the ring.

While reviewing Zeo and aXbo last year, I found myself wondering what was the need for having a bedside clock hardware, since most of that computing could be done in a smartphone. Seems like the crop of solutions  that followed (e.g. WakeMate, Lark, Zeo Mobile) thought of the same. EASYWAKEme follows the pattern: wearable sensor (on wrist) that monitors movement as a proxy for sleep phase, provides intelligent wake-up alarm and longitudinal insight into your sleeping habits. Their ‘how it works‘ page explains it well.

Quick market analysis shows that price is going to be a very important factor since there is a wide range right now and consumers will tend to favor the cheapest. EASYWAKEme (£118), aXbo (starts at €179), SleepTracker ($149) are at the more expensive end compared to competitors like Lark (starts at $99), Zeo (mobile is $99), FitBit ($99), Jawbone Up ($99). WakeMate has already started the downward spiral at $59.

Activity sensors like FitBit, and more recently Jawbone Up are also chomping at the bit to include sleep monitoring as their value proposition. Cheaper solutions that are just smartphone apps are competition too. I actually bought the $0.99 SleepCycle iphone app out of curiosity (it had >20,000 reviews, most were positive) and ended up forgetting about it after a week. I now put it in the same category as placebo: it’ll work only if you already believe it does.

So the real question is whether body movement tracking and analysis is really a dependable way for extrapolating sleep phases. I still believe (based on scientific persuasion like this, and this) that it is. The ultimate hope is that these low-cost innovations can make their way back to help with serious issues like sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders. Current solutions like polysomnography are too cumbersome to be done outside of a clinical setting.

Disclosure: The generous folks at EASYWAKEme offered to send me a review unit, so I’ll be testing that hypothesis over the next few weeks. Look out for an update to this review in near future.

July 2012 Update: Used the unit several nights. Not scoring high on usability, mostly because of underlying BlackBerry OS inelegance. Overall, the concept seems to work. I woke up fresh most of the mornings I used it. Some gory details below:

  • Alarm setup is a pain due to BB limitations. Very tricky to use the trackball to setup wake time. Can’t see the cursor lot of times. Aarrgh..
  • If I don’t exit the app after pressing sleep, the BB stays on. More than once it ran out of juice by the morning.
  • Buggy..even when on “silent” mode, the alarm tone still came on after 3 minutes
  • There is no way to shut the alarm immediately on BB! Had to run out with it to avoid waking up my wife. Why can’t i shut the BB alarm with one keystroke or with the button on EASYWAKEme device?
  • The device vibrations don’t stop until I hold the button down long enough to shut it off. Not sure if that is intentional design. But quite irritating in the morning…
  • The BB’s final step of putting app in “sleep” mode is not intuitive or written well in manual. Also, that should be a button right next to the place where you set the alarm, and not a menu option.
  • I would have liked it if shutting off the device or just pressing its button in some way shut off alarm on BB. Without that, the user is forced to hunt down their BB in morning to shut the damn alarm.
  • Battery lasted only 2 days during my trial.

Basis

The concept of sensor-based connected devices that help consumers manage a healthy lifestyle is certainly gaining traction. Consider FitBit, Zeo, DirectLife, miCoach, BodyMedia, GreenGoose as examples. It was only a matter of time before a startup in this space decided to go with a watch-like form factor.

I first heard about MyBasis during a talk given by Bharat Vasan (founder?) at Bay Area Quantified Self gathering in June 2010. He referred to it as PulseTracer back then, and described its use for pulse monitoring. Based on the current description on their website, the product concept seems to have matured. Similar to BodyMedia, it now has 4 Sensors: Pulse, Temperature, Accelerometer, Skin Conductance (i.e. moisture). It is USB and bluetooth enabled; and comes with integrated social functionality (gaming, sharing, rewards, etc.). There seem to be smartphone, iPad and online applications that help provide analysis and understanding of the collected data.

MyBasis certainly has the concept nailed: A smart device with multiple sensors and long battery life in a familiar form-factor + Always-on and connected to desktop, mobile and online dashboards that simplify analysis of the aggregated raw data + Integrated social features that help make it sticky and viral. If they play it right, this can be a hit. Mainstream competition from products (like the lackluster Polar offerings) is uninteresting and hardly addictive.

But critics can say that there are always technophile early-adopters (like me) who crave anything that is novel and web-enabled. So before we get over-optimistic about the impending success of such devices, consider two important caveats.

First, it’s not about sophisticated monitoring or granular data. Whether they realize it or not, the key value proposition for an average end-customer is the personalized insight that results from it. Gathering 24X7 data from multiple sensors is great, but it’s all pointless if the user doesn’t understand the ultimate picture that results from all that data. Most users are interested in revelations into their health and lifestyle, not numbers. So the way MyBasis handles analysis is going to be critical. I was disappointed with MyZeo and FitBit for the very same reason. An interesting approach that MyBasis seems to have is the creation of a virtual pet that gives a quick proxy of your overall status. It may sound silly, but abstractions like these have shown promise in encouraging self-monitoring and positive behavior change in users (e.g. see UbiFit project at University of Washington).

Second, the technology and device needs to be so well-integrated with a user’s lifestyle that they essentially ‘disappear’. If someone needs to put a headband one (like for Zeo) or remember to find a USB cable and synchronize every week to prevent data loss, you can be assured that it’s not going to work out long term. As a species, we humans have remarkable lack of discipline even when it comes to things/habits that are good for us. So the offering needs to add minimal extra work and be seamless with your daily life. Neil Versel at MobiHealthNews calls it “passivity”. Example: FitBit gets a better grade than Zeo in this regard. I clip it onto my belt (almost sub-consciously now) every day and plop it on to the USB hub (always connected to my desktop) once in a couple of weeks. That’s it.

MyBasis is still in early beta, so my impression is based on what their website claims and not actual usage. I’ve signed up for preorder and will update this review when I get my hands on one. Seems like the cost is a one-time $199 for now. It would make a lot of sense to have  a subscription-based model of some sort though. Also, it’d be great to see such solutions go beyond just wellness and be tailored for medical-grade serious conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc. All clues indicate that such applications are not very far in the future.

Healthrageous

The wireless remote health monitoring market is white hot these days. Seems like a lot of creative folks are looking at the increasing ability of connected devices, sensors and wondering why aren’t these disrupting healthcare. Some luminary research centers rooted in academic institutions have found enough financial support to establish formal presence specifically in this space. West Wireless Institute in San Diego, UCLA Wireless Health Institute are good examples.

Established in 1995, the Center for Connected Health is another such example within Partners HealthCare in Boston. They’ve dabbled in a number of remote monitoring pilots- diabetes, dermatology, heart failure, etc. Healthrageous is their first spin-off. It started as a pilot project conducted in 2006 with EMC Corp. to give employees self-management tools for blood pressure. In June 2010, Healthrageous raised $6 million in a Series A funding led by North Bridge Venture Partners of Boston.

Having read enough of them, I think the marketing message around the concept of continuous care through remote monitoring has now been perfected from multiple angles. Read the descriptions from Welldoc, HealthBuddy, Telcare, iMetrikus, Hommed, Cardiocom, Gentag, BL Healthcare for example. Healthrageous also does a good job at describing the high-level value proposition.

But it seems that the transition from online paragraphs to a generally available, well-known and affordable solution has not happened. I searched for what product/service I could buy through Healthrageous to help a close friend manage her hypertension, but couldn’t find anything. There are some encouraging success stories on the website, but no explanation as to where can one sign up for becoming a success like that. I wish these websites were more transparent and lucid, maybe even at the risk of being less enchanting.

PS: Found two candidate consumer-oriented solutions for remotely managing hypertension. One is not available yet (Withings BP Monitor), and other needs an Apple iOS device to work (iHealth Lab’s BP3) and didn’t get great reviews. If anyone knows of other products/services, please share through comments below.

Enhanced by ZemantaUpdate Oct 2013: Healthrageous closed shop this month. Apparently the backing of big names like Partners Healthcare and millions in funding ain’t enough. Who would have thought..

Life Pebble

Toumaz technology is a spin-off from Imperial College of London , and they make what is probably the only ultra low-power silicon chip targeted for healthcare applications. In October 2009,  they launched the Sensium Life Pebble wireless monitoring device in EU.

The Life Pebble hardware includes a single lead ECG, skin thermometer, and an accelerometer. The data collected by the system is streamed wirelessly to a USB Network Adapter over short distances. According to MobiHealthNews, the device is currently in clinical trials are few US hospitals and Toumaz has declared an intention to submit for FDA clearance in 2011. This continuous physiological monitoring capability is currently marketed for assisted living, rehabilitation and professional sports applications by the company.

If we can put aside the “who will pay for this?” question for a minute, this kind of technology has myriad applications in both consumer and provider space. What is chunky hardware today, will almost surely be a disposable, thin patch tomorrow. If we can have a reliable way to do real-time monitoring of key vitals, disease management is no longer confined to interactions in the healthcare setting.

What intrigues me is how the trend of medical-grade remote monitoring (which is moving outside of hospital setting with technologies like Sensium) will interact with the trend of consumer-oriented remote monitoring (FitBit, DirectLife, BodyMedia, Zeo, etc.). There will be a shakeout, obviously. My guess is that the winners then will be not be defined by which way and how much data they gather, but what they do with that data. Analytics and interpretation will be the differentiators.

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ScanAvert

In the last few years, bar code scanning with smartphones has become much more robust and dependable functionality. Predictably enough, it’s main application has been in real-time comparison shopping and product information area, giving rise to new services like RedLaser (recently acquired by eBay).

ScanAvert is an interesting paid application of the same functionality. It allows users to scan the usual UPC barcode information on their supermarket items and cross-check the ingredients with their health profile. Consumers register and create their profile with facts like allergies, prescriptions, diagnoses, dietary needs, etc. ScanAvert uses data provided by Gladson (a major CPG product images and information provider) to do real-time checks on the ingredients of the item to detect incompatibilities. Now I know the usual critique would be that why wouldn’t the consumer just read the ingredient list or package label? And the counter would be that an average consumer may not find the information easily readable or understandable.

Those and other evident arguments aside, the service has obvious value for people with serious dietary issues (think gluten allergy, Celiac, Diabetes, Obesity, Prescription drug interactions). But I’m more excited about another aspect of the service- ScanAvert users can specify custom limits on a labels nutritional box values (calories, carbs, fat…) and get instant recommendation. To me, that is pretty useful for the rest of the population that doesn’t deal with any significant dietary restrictions. In fact, most of us end up buying food items without paying much attention to what it means nutritionally. Even those few that give a thought to the nutritional box items, the mental calculation done is only at a high level (“100 Cal drink…sounds low….I’ll try that”) and inconsistent (how many times have you checked the fat vs. saturated fat numbers?). I doubt most of the ‘normal’ population even knows what is their actual average dietary intake in terms of calories, fat, proteins, etc.

So if someone can setup a profile that puts a limit on the daily fat/protein/cal intake and have a real-time summary report given to them while they were grocery shopping, that would be an darn useful service, I think. Seems like currently ScanAvert can also suggest alternatives (if it detects incompatibility) and send alerts about scanned items that have been recalled. That makes the service even more useful.

It’s intriguing to think about expanding this service into a space where it can potentially be the long-term dietary record for an individual. Suppose one could combine that with a personal activity monitor like FitBit.  That would make a great ‘wellness solution’ for an individual to record, analyze, set goals and then get guidance on two important aspects:

  1. Energy input (your food intake)
  2. Energy output (your daily activity)

I also found some other apps that help manage food allergies (FoodContentAlerts, iCanEat/iEatOut), although they don’t have bar code scanning ability. This space just keeps getting more interesting every day.

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