It’s been a busy week for the, er, wrist technology industry. Just two days after Fitbit launched three new smartwatches, Amazon has stolen its thunder with the launch of the Amazon Halo – a slightly confusing, and screenless, fitness band that will cost US$99.99 (no NZ price revealed yet). Oh, and you can’t buy it, but more of that below.
Confusingly, customers will also have to pay US$3.99/month (for a Halo membership) in order to use these features. Just to be clear, Halo membership is included with Amazon Prime.
Customers in the U.S. can request early access to Amazon Halo, starting today. Those accepted will be able to buy the device for a special price of US$64.99 with six months of Halo membership thrown in. The public at large will have to pay and pay full price.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but as far as I can see, there are three major features that you need to know about.
1. Amazon Halo doesn’t have a screen…
The first is that, as I said in the intro, it’s a screenless device. Amazon is deliberately positioning its first wearable device a little further away from today’s current crop of wearable devices. It’s clever too; no screen means much more battery life. Seven days, in fact.
The fact it’s not a smartwatch also opens up the possibility that users don’t have to replace their traditional wristwatches with the Halo. They can, presumably, wear both. There’s a good range of aesthetics on offer – customers can also choose from three fabric band colours at purchase, with fabric and silicone sport accessory bands available in 15 additional colours.
2. 3D body scans (for bodyfat %)
A big part of the Halo experience seems to require users to strip down to their underwear (or as far as they dare) and take pictures of themselves. Photos are then sent to the cloud for processing, and the app will return a body fat perfectage score.
10/10 for innovation. Though the wisdom of releasing this sort of (potentially body-shaming) technology to the general public remains to be seen. The intention here is easy to see – it’s meant to be used as a motivational and information tool. However, anyone with self-image, or mental health, issues might not benefit from having access to such unabated data at the press of a button.
3. “You were a d*ckhead today…”
The third major feature is called Tone. This, confusingly, is unrelated the how toned one’s body is. Instead, it uses the band’s built-in microphone to passively monitor the wearer’s tone of voice throughout the day. Amazon Halo will use this data to feedback what it thinks your mood was like throughout the day.
The benefit to the user here, Amazon tells us is that “Tone results may reveal that a difficult work call leads to less positivity in communication with a customer’s family, an indication of the impact of stress on emotional well-being.”
I’m not sure I’m buying that. I also think – based on how often Alexa gets me command wrong – Halo will misdiagnose sarcastic tones and/or accents. I really doubt that Amazon’s AI systems are intelligent enough to understand the thousands (millions?) of different regional dialects throughout the English-speaking world – let alone local colloquialisms. Will Halo inform all Glaswegians they’re perpetually angry, for example?
What does Amazon do with its half-naked photos of users?
The thought of Amazon requesting its users to upload a semi-nude photo of themselves in order to use their new fitness band fills me with dread. The servers that store these pictures are going to be magnets to hackers.
Fortunately, Amazon has foreseen this and taken the necessary step to ensure privacy issues are a non-starter.
Body scan images are automatically deleted from the cloud after processing, so only the customer sees them. Health data is also encrypted in transit and in the cloud, and customers can download or delete their data at any time directly from the app. Finally, speech samples are always analyzed locally – on the customer’s phone – and then they’re automatically deleted. Amazon says “nobody, not even the customer, ever hears them.”
What else I know to know?
Here’s what Amazon has to say about its new launch verbatim:
Amazon Halo Band is purpose-built to focus on your health and wellness—unlike smartwatches and fitness trackers, it doesn’t have a screen or constant notifications. The small sensor capsule delivers highly accurate data, and includes an accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a heart rate monitor, two microphones, an LED indicator light, and a button to turn the microphones on or off, among other functions. Amazon Halo Band is water resistant for all-day wear and the comfortable fit means it won’t snag or irritate at night. Plus, the battery lasts up to seven days and fully charges in under 90 minutes. Customers can choose from three fabric band colors at purchase, with fabric and silicone sport accessory bands available in 15 additional colors.
“Despite the rise in digital health services and devices over the last decade, we have not seen a corresponding improvement in population health in the U.S. We are using Amazon’s deep expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer customers a new way to discover, adopt, and maintain personalized wellness habits,” said Dr. Maulik Majmudar, Principal Medical Officer, Amazon Halo.
“Health is much more than just the number of steps you take in a day or how many hours you sleep. Amazon Halo combines the latest medical science, highly accurate data via the Halo Band sensors, and cutting-edge artificial intelligence to offer a more comprehensive approach to improving your health and wellness.”
Amazon Halo features
Activity: Informed by American Heart Association physical activity guidelines and the latest medical research, Amazon Halo awards points based on the intensity and duration of movement, not just the number of steps taken. For example, customers will earn points for walking, but will earn more points for running. Medical guidelines also advise that a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact health, so Amazon Halo deducts one activity point for every hour over eight hours of sedentary time in a day, outside of sleep. A baseline goal of 150 activity points is set and measured weekly.
Sleep: The health benefits of consistently good, sufficient sleep are well documented—as are the potential negative health impacts of not enough or consistently poor sleep. Amazon Halo uses motion, heart rate, and temperature to measure time asleep and time awake; time spent in the various phases of sleep including deep, light, and REM; and skin temperature while sleeping. The sensors in the band allow for continuous sleep monitoring, so customers get rich, detailed information without having to charge the band every day. In the morning, Amazon Halo delivers a sleep score out of 100, any deviation from baseline sleep temperature, and a hypnogram showing time spent in each sleep phase.
Body: Medical research has shown for years that body fat percentage is a better measure of overall health than just weight or body mass index (BMI) alone, but the tools that measure body fat percentage can be expensive or difficult to access. Using new innovations in computer vision and machine learning, Amazon Halo lets customers measure their body fat percentage from the comfort and privacy of their own home, making this important information easily accessible. The Amazon Halo body fat measurement is as accurate as methods a doctor would use—and nearly twice as accurate as leading at-home smart scales.
Tone: The globally accepted definition of health includes not just physical but also social and emotional well-being. The innovative Tone feature uses machine learning to analyze energy and positivity in a customer’s voice so they can better understand how they may sound to others, helping improve their communication and relationships. For example, Tone results may reveal that a difficult work call leads to less positivity in communication with a customer’s family, an indication of the impact of stress on emotional well-being.
Labs: Amazon Halo Labs are science-backed challenges, experiments, and workouts that allow customers to discover what works best for them specifically, so they can build healthier habits—for example, some customers might discover that cutting out afternoon caffeine improves their sleep quality, or that a certain type of at-home workout is more effective than others. Customers can choose from labs created by Amazon Halo experts, as well as brands and personalities they already know, including 8fit, Aaptiv, American Heart Association, Exhale On Demand, Harvard Health Publishing, Headspace, Julian Treasure, Lifesum, Mayo Clinic, Openfit, Orangetheory Fitness, P.volve, Russell Wilson, Relax Melodies, SWEAT, and WW. Additional content from more providers will be added to Labs regularly.