Withings CEO on improving the Steel HR, and why 10,000 steps isn't enough

And how a hairbrush stole the show at CES
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Withings came to CES 2017 with several announcements in its bag, including a new smart home camera and (finally) a launch date for the Steel HR watch - but it was a hairbrush that stole the show. The Withings smart hairbrush, developed in partnership with L'Oréal, generated a lot of buzz by virtue of just how absurd it sounded, but in a show that also featured smart umbrellas, at least it was in good company.

"There were a lot of eyebrows raised," joked Withings CEO Cédric Hutchings when I sat down with him at the show. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-equipped brush can tell you about the quality of your hair, if it's damaged, and offer advice on how to look after it better. However, "it's a very female product," Hutchings said. "It requires long hair to really be relevant". He also admitted it won't be a device for the masses, just those really care about the quality of their hair.

Also on the Vegas show floor was the Steel HR, which after some delay has started to ship out. We've already reviewed it and were impressed by how it balances form and function with the addition of a heart rate monitor. However we wanted to know a little more behind the thinking of the Steel HR - namely, why do HR in a hybrid?

"If you rewind the story of the 10k steps a day, it's never been WHO [World Health Organisation] advice," said Hutchings. "It's just a smart, simple way to remember. I'm not saying it's bullshit, but you'll see more and more heart rate monitoring to engage moderately intense physical activity."

Read next: The best smart analogue watches 2017

And it's not just the Nokia-owned company, as we've seen others move away from arbitrary numbers to something that more meaningfully assess our physical activity, whether it's a HR monitor or something like VO2 Max. "The best way is not only motion-based but how your heart behaves," said Hutchings, and he's certainly not wrong.

Last year the Withings HealthMate app won a Wareable Award for Health and Fitness Platform of the Year, but we'd like to see it do more in the coaching department, including proper monthly and yearly overviews that give a better picture of long-term improvement. Hutchings said we can expect to see more smart coaching come to the app over time, and possibly GPS too.

Withings CEO on improving the Steel HR, and why 10,000 steps isn't enough
The Withings smart hairbrush

He said the decision to not include GPS in the Steel HR was purely down to battery, something Withings wanted to be able to boast about on the watch. However he said Withings may bring GPS to HealthMate for runners before long, where it's tracked by the phone. As to when, he didn't specify.

Hutchings also told us we can expect to see support for notifications outside of SMS, calls and calendar alerts, with WhatsApp and Facebook on the way. "It's in the short term road map, so it will be in a couple of months via a software update," he told us. "To do it in a consistent way across Android and iOS, some integration work needs to be done."

The hybrid smartwatch category is thriving with options right now, and we predict 2017 will be even bigger for it, especially with Fossil continuing to put so much weight behind it. "We now have many proof points that it's a growing trend," said Hutchings on the smart analogue category. When we asked if we'll see another Activité Pop to compliment the Steel HR, he wouldn't confirm anything solid, but said "It's a range of device we want to keep developing.

"We're very convinced by the future of the hybrid watch".

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Hugh Langley


Now at Business Insider, Hugh originally joined Wareable from TechRadar where he’d been writing news, features, reviews and just about everything else you can think of for three years.

Hugh is now a correspondent at Business Insider.

Prior to Wareable, Hugh freelanced while studying, writing about bad indie bands and slightly better movies. He found his way into tech journalism at the beginning of the wearables boom, when everyone was talking about Google Glass and the Oculus Rift was merely a Kickstarter campaign - and has been fascinated ever since.

He’s particularly interested in VR and any fitness tech that will help him (eventually) get back into shape. Hugh has also written for T3, Wired, Total Film, Little White Lies and China Daily.

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