MyZone boss: Step-counting fitness trackers’ days are numbered

Dave Wright gives us his take on the state of play for heart rate and step tracking
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"The great thing about Fitbit is that they acknowledged to the market that accelerometers were not the way forward but heart monitoring was. That's a great step towards more credible tracking, which raises the game for everyone."

That's the word, according to MyZone CEO Dave Wright. His company recently made its bpm monitoring chest strap – the MZ-3 – available to consumers after building a reputation in gyms and health clubs.

"The thing about pulse monitoring PPG versus the electrical impulses from the heart, is confusion – people may think that it's the same thing," Wright told us.

Who knew heart rate monitoring could cause so much controversy in the world of consumer tech?

Apple came under fire last year from users complaining about supposed inaccuracies with its new smartwatch; anyone who's ever made use of their Android Wear's optical monitor knows it's a waste of time; and recently Fitbit has seen legal charges brought against its PurePulse tech.

But while the world of wrist-based bpm monitoring spins on a somewhat unproven axis, chest-straps from the likes of Polar, Garmin, Wahoo and MyZone are proving ever more popular with consumers looking for detailed ticker tracking.

"There is absolutely a great appetite, in all walks of life, for credible data," explained Wright. "Collecting data for data's sake is almost a distraction if it is not accurate. The one measurement that crosses all boundaries of physical activity is whether the heart is beating.

"The World Health Organisation guidelines are based on 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more per week. It's not based on 10,000 steps or 2,000 jiggles of a jiggle device. It's about intensity."

We recently spoke to the scientist at the centre of the study that is being used in a US class action lawsuit against Fitbit's heart rate monitoring tech. He told us that trackers featuring the company's PurePulse heart rate monitoring technology are "dangerous" and pose a risk to general consumers.

Dr. Edward Jo, assistant professor of Applied Physiology at California State Polytechnic University, said: "This inaccuracy that we've seen can definitely pose a danger to not only the clinical population, but those population of individuals who may not know that they have any cardiac related conditions. It can definitely put them at risk."

MyZone boss: Step-counting fitness trackers’ days are numbered

It's a sentiment that the MyZone boss backs up. "In an age of high-intensity interval training, CrossFit and the 'go to the max' style of training, it takes people to a level of intensity that could be dangerous," he told us.

"In the same way that if you are taking your car to 6,000 revs, but the dial only shows 2,000, then you unwittingly could be pushing the car well beyond its safe handling. That is no different to our own bodies. If you are training at 90% but your monitor says that you are only at 60% you push harder and could do damage. This is not only for fit people but also for very unfit people. It is also extremely demotivating to not be rewarded for the effort you put into a session."

Referring to Wright's theory that Fitbit has acknowledged that bpm tracking is more important for personal health than step counting, we asked him if heart rate monitoring would become front and centre of how fitness trackers are marketed in the future.

"I don't think so," he answered. "The issue with every day monitoring of bpm is that people would have no idea how to interpret or action that data. Steps for lifestyle tracking are effective to motivate people to know how far they have travelled in a particular day and then subsequently feel better about themselves so that they can eat a donut.

"However, the issue is whether there is actually a need for a device to measure steps when you can do that with your phone that you carry with you all the time anyway."

Wright also expressed concern about the continuous upgrade culture of consumer technology, and stated that MyZone would instead focus on keeping people committed to exercise. "The future lies in the data and behaviour analytics to better be able to motivate people to reach their goals," he told us.

"We are working on a rewards program to pay people to stick to their exercise plan as well as linking with third party reward platforms. We have been running global challenges to do this and the feedback and behaviour change has been mammoth."

MyZone's first consumer facing device aims to add a level of competition to regular heart rate training. Users train with the Mz-3 on and earn points based on their bpm. Rather than simply scoring highly based on a big reading, the MyZone platform studies a user over time and handicaps their levels depending on their statistics.

It's a platform that the company wants to expand upon. Earlier this year the MyZone compression top, part of a new series of smart sports garments, was unveiled at the Wearable Tech Show.

And Wright told us that MyZone is also in talks with leading sports bra manufactures with a view to getting its tech integrated. The idea is to make it easier to keep people motivated and involved, with accurate heart rate data.

"Our objective is to go to an market segment – people that exercise – who leave fitness or stop going to the gym every year. So they had the need and desire, but the issue is the adherence to exercise. That's what we are trying to solve."

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Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

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