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With its recent entry into the fitness app and wearable competition, Amazon is taking a different approach than the examples set by previous entrants into the field, such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit. Let’s look at what the Halo does that other apps and bands don’t, how they are similar, and what capabilities Halo lacks compared with those other options.

Unlike most fitness apps, the Halo explicitly aims to measure both body fat and emotional tone. It also requires a monthly subscription, on top of the cost to purchase the band itself. When they initiate their subscription accounts, Halo users are encouraged to take pictures of their bodies (front, both sides, and back views). The linked app then provides them with a measure of their body fat, which Amazon promises is more accurate than the gauges offered by smart scales. Users can keep track of any changes to their body fat levels, which may provide more helpful health insights than basic weight or body mass index information. Halo recommends users rerun the body fat analysis about every two weeks. A slider underneath the self-photo that informs the analysis also allows people to adjust the depiction, so they can see what their bodies would look like if their body fat level rose or fell.

The Halo band also takes intermittent recordings of users’ voices, to determine what emotional state their speech is conveying, in terms of tone, speed, pitch, and so on. Thus users can determine whether they appear consistently anxious or calm, when they seem to become most emotional during the day, and so forth. Amazon promises that the data that support both the body fat and tone measures get immediately deleted from any servers, after the assessment is performed.

In terms of their similarities, all the apps in this market offer some common health insights, such as the extent to which a person is sedentary during the day, but they provide the information in different ways. For example, the Apple Watch pings users to “stand” if it appears they have been sitting still for about an hour. The Halo instead offers an aggregated score for the entire day, such that if the person has not moved much during waking hours, he or she earns a lower activity score. Similar to the Fitbit, it also tracks sleep activity and temperature, so that people can gauge the quality of their sleep.

But the Halo does not provide detailed exercise trackers, nor does it count steps or calories burned. It does not offer GPS or WiFi connectivity. In contrast with some recent additions to existing fitness devices, it has no means to detect falls or monitor heart fibrillation. And perhaps most evidently, it does not have a screen. The monitor is attached to users’ wrists with a band, but there is no visible display or detailed information. To learn about the data being gathered, users have to check their connected phones. Amazon also notes explicitly that the Halo is not designed to be integrated with Alexa-enabled devices, so people cannot use voice commands to ask their Echo device to read out their activity score, for example.

With these designs, Amazon appears to be targeting people who want to get started with fitness, rather than dedicated exercisers or calorie counters. In particular, it measures weekly averages, rather than hour-by-hour or daily energy expenditures. Accordingly, its battery can last up to a week, much longer than those available with most other fitness bands, and it is safe to wear in water. In addition, rather than daily challenges, the Halo offers Labs, most of which involve four-week programs designed to encourage healthy lifestyle changes, such as adding daily meditation to the person’s schedule or performing regular breathing exercises. A partnership with WW will enable dieters to participate in a weight loss lab as well, linked to WW’s existing point-counting plans.

The Halo thus is distinctive and unlike other fitness bands. Is the differentiated value that it offers sufficient to make it competitive too?

Discussion Questions:

  1. For whom is the Halo likely to be an appealing option? Would you purchase and subscribe to one?
  2. Are there any privacy or other ethical concerns associated with the functionalities that the Halo offers?

Source: Dieter Bohn, “Amazon Announces Halo, a Fitness Band and App that Scans Your Body and Voice,” The Verge, August 27, 2020