Hacking Personal Health: Amazon Halo isn’t the Apple Watch killer, but…

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The Amazon Halo is not a must-buy, particularly if you are already an Apple Watch or Fitbit user. However, it is a look into how Amazon views the fitness tracker as a larger play into their healthcare, marketing ecosystem, subscription offerings, and personal data aspirations.

A photo of my actual arm in 2014

I’ve worn a lot of wearables, and we’ve come a long way from 2013 – when I was getting a lot of pushback that smartwatches and wearables would ever be mainstream.

Instead, smartwatches and health tracking devices continued their growth trajectory despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with global smartwatch shipments increasing 6% in Q3 2020 compared to the same period last year, according to the recently published Global Smartwatch Model Tracker of Counterpoint Research. Apple is leading, but there are a lot of players.

So it’s no surprise Amazon wants to come into this market. But they aren’t doing it with an Apple Watch killer. Even if it may have been rushed to market to compete with Apple Fitness+‘s launch this week.

Amazon Halo

At first-look, the Halo isn’t much to look at… but that’s the point. Its low-key form factor comes off like you’re wearing a canvas survival bracelet at a Dave Matthews Band concert.

The $99 device doesn’t have a speaker or a screen, and therefore becomes immediately forgettable. This is the exact opposite experience of Amazon Echo Frames or Apple Watch, which beg you to interact with them.

Instead, Halo is more subtle, like a Fitbit. And besides the Fitbit-like things you would expect a 2020-era wearable to track — steps, calories, heart rate, activity level. Others have done the breakdown of how accurate it is compared to others, and that doesn’t really interest me. What does is the bonus Halo features of Tone, Body, and Sleep.

TONE

Tone “helps you understand how you sound to others — insights you can use to help improve your relationships and overall well-being.” The device learns your voice and then captures snippets throughout the day and ranks your vocal tone via High/Low Positivity and High/Low Energy. You can use the button on Halo to mute ton monitoring OR to listen to you speak up to 30 minutes and share an analysis.

I find it… unhelpful and unimportant data. But I’m curious why Amazon is leading with such a distinct and voice-specific offer. Are they using this data to further train Alexa, perhaps?

I totally understand that I may not have the perfect tone when interacting with coworkers, kids, and others. But what if the band SHOCKED you if you’re being a jerk? Now that would be some incentive. And make that data actionable.

BODY

Body claims to be “the first app-based tool for measuring body fat from the comfort and privacy of home,” with Amazon saying body fat is widely considered a better barometer of health and fitness than weight alone. How Amazon measures that is by having you change into minimal clothing and letting it scan your body with a camera, then process that data via computer vision and machine learning.

It reminds me of Amazon’s (discontinued) Echo Look camera, that would help you pick out outfits and figure out sizing for buying new clothes. Except now you’re standing half-naked in front of your phone sending pictures to Amazon for their A.I. to rank your body.

Photo credit: Amazon

I find it… not something I’m going to do. As an affluent, educated, white male I am privileged to be pretty liberal with my data and privacy. But giving Amazon a scan of my naked body is too far. And the value proposition just isn’t there for the privacy and risk trade off. If I was a woman or was concerned about my privacy, no way.

SLEEP

Sleep is a feature that tracks your time in bed, time asleep, time to fall asleep, REM/Light/Deep cycles, disturbances, sleep efficiency and sleep temperature.  I haven’t worn a wearable to sleep since the BASIS watch, so this data was particularly of interest.

I find it… fine. Amazon has done a great job of explaining the data they’re collecting, what it means, why the averages are created the way they are, and more.

But like a lot of the country, I’m personally not sleeping well these days. So this just verified that for me – thanks Amazon! And on the days I took melatonin, I couldn’t see a drastic difference. Are all the small “Awake” disturbances that seem to plague my nights normal? I found it more stressful to know I only got 5 hours of sleep and doom scrolled for 20 minutes in the middle of the night than to just complain I was tired the next day.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s that much different from other sleep trackers and isn’t enough for me to continue to wear both an Apple Watch and a Halo — particularly if Apple gets its battery life act together and starts innovating around sleep.

LABS

Throughout the app experience, Amazon Halo Labs experiences are highlighted with tips to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, boost your fitness workouts or change your diet. They will track a workout to a video series you watch and track your health data against it. This means Amazon is working hard to capitalize on the app-based fitness craze that Peloton, Strava, Apple Fitness+, and others are building. You can envision Amazon releasing their own bike, treadmill or suite of “Prime Exercise” apps and products using what they’ve learned from Halo and Halo Labs (and how many people will shell out $3.99/month for access).

So that’s the Amazon Halo. It’s a late-to-market fitness tracker that is mostly unremarkable except for its exploration into voice, body fat, and subscription-based curriculum. But it’s very early days, and one should never count Amazon out of an industry where they intend to invest and innovate.

And it’s getting some terrible PR this week…

If you aren’t an Apple Watch or Fitbit fan and are looking for an entry-level wearable (without a screen, clock, alarm, or speaker) that stores photos of you naked and you’ll probably have to replace within the year, this could be the device for you. Hit me up and I’ll share a code with you to get one at the early access price. I’m not kidding.


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