Withings boss: The secret of new health tracking devices is in the data

The health tech company is about to release a slew of devices. It means business
New Withings devices inbound

Withings has had a quiet 2015 by anyone's standards. It unveiled the Withings Activité Pop way back at CES in January, which it duly launched in the spring. Yet bar an announcement about a partnership with Spotify and its Aura sleep monitor, we've seen precious little product since.

The wearable world, on the other hand, hasn't stopped. Since the Activité Pop's launch we've seen the Apple Watch, second generation Android Wear, Pebble smashing Kickstarter records and Blocks being modularity to the smartwatch market. And that's just AAA products on the wrist.

Withings has been thinking. Developing. Planning. And the new Withings Activité its CEO showed us at WebSummit doesn't even scratch the surface of what the team has in store.

"A lot has been going on behind the scenes. For sure, it has been very busy on various products and busy upgrading and adding new features," Cedric Hutchings, CEO of Withings told us.

"We're preparing in terms of hardware but we are working on both the upgrade of products and new stuff."

So what's changed at Withings over the last year? Well, it seems the company has spent 2015 looking inwardly and as a result, that healthcare is set to be a bigger focus of its devices in 2016.

"Quietly, we have been adding some features for blood pressure monitoring which have been developed by doctors. It's a serious measurement that can answer specific questions by doctors and build a report after three weeks. It's a feature that has been validated in scientific papers in Europe. It's a very interesting example in bridging a gap between wellness and healthcare professionals."

But while we find healthcare a bit of a turn off, Hutchings insists the future looks different He told us that looking at consumer and healthcare devices as different markets was getting outdated:

"The old way of looking at things was that there was healthcare and there was consumers. That's been done for decade and is very difficult to penetrate as who pays for it and how do you get it implemented?" he said.

"If you make a consumer device that's sexy and attractive that will be purchased and used by consumers but at the same time relevant in terms of accuracy, data flow and partnerships to your doctor, then things are different."

"So the short answer: the healthcare market is very important. But it's not about professionals, it's about the consumer but still making it relevant and useful for doctors."

To build devices that doctors will take seriously, Withings is going to need serious sensors, and the company has been working on these, too. When I asked Hutchings whether his company would look to buy in technology, he was unequivocal: Withings would develop the tech it already possesses.

"We did HR with the Pulse, which is a unique device as it does HR but also blood oxygen saturation. And it's the only one that does reflexive measurement, so you don't need to clip your finger. We created the sensors and we have been developing our algorithms so you would expect us to remain on this path," he said.

"We measure HR when you step on our scale but we do that by making sense of noise picked up by our device. We developed the sensors and algorithms and we had to filter out noise. We found out some of that was your weight fluctuating as your heart beats.

"If you go deep in the stack and develop your own sensors and algorithms you can be a first mover, and we were the first ones to make this kind of heart rate assessment. The next stage is really building on our IP," he said.

But what will the next big push for wearable tech be in Hutchings' eyes? Does it end at blood pressure and heart rate? What are the next sensors?

"The Withings Institute published a paper on stress and sleep. Stress can be understood or sorted from lots of data and in activity trackers. It's not just about step counting but analysing data to see the signatures of what a true stress looks like. I think we are building on this," Hutchings said.

And that's the biggest thing Hutchings says is happening at Withings. Just like it found user's heart rate in the minute data of its Smart Body Analyzer smart scale, it is now diving into its own algorithms and technology to find new health data based around sleep and rest and recovery hidden in the noise.

"Going forward it's about where we can innovate and add intelligence into these devices," he said, "and we have been very bold in integrating the whole stack and making sense out of our sensors."

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