Runners, rejoice! LifeBeam sells a $99 hat that will track your heart rate, steps, calories and more. It’s on sale now and will ship before the holidays. I like the look of the hat, and imagine most consumers will appreciate the friendly approach to data — namely, instead of just counting steps, it offers advice and insights via a companion app. LifeBeam already offers similar tech inside a bike helmet.
The most interesting thing about the hat and the helmet is that they are merely a showpiece for the company’s technology and algorithms. LifeBeam, an Israeli company, has a two pronged-business plan. It will sell to clothing manufacturers and fitness companies as a sort of Intel-inside for the activity tracking tech. It will also let technology manufacturers license its hardware and software and incorporate it into their own wearable products such as smartwatches or other gear.
LifeBeam already has customers in both segments, and by the middle of next year we’ll see the its tech inside clothing and athletic wear from major manufacturers and experience it in electronic devices. While LifeBeam is playing it smart by going after both the tech market and the fitness gear purveyors, CEO Omri Yoffe is betting that within five years, the tech sellers will be niche players as Nike, Under Armour, Speedo and other large clothing companies make a play for this market.
“When people want to manage their life or health better, they shouldn’t have to put an earbud in or a watch on,” Yoffe said. “This market will be about invisibility, putting tech into your existing gear and totally hiding it.” (To hear more about wearable design check out our design conference Roadmap later this month in San Francisco).
So while you may have an electronics pack you clip into a pocket on your gear that will communicate with a watch or smartphone, you won’t have to use dedicated gear for your activity. Instead, a tech pack might move from your goggles to your bike helmet to your running tights and you will choose your hub that it communicates with as well as the apps.
As for the apps, Yoffe believes that the focus should be less on raw data and more on algorithms that tie the data together to help coach the athlete. So combining your heart rate data, respiration and past performance might indicate that you could run a bit faster. Instead of forcing you to think about that, the LifeBeam software can tell you to speed up.
It’s similar to the next-generation fitness coaching apps like Moov (which gained a $3 million funding round last month). The emphasis on providing smarter algorithms that deliver insights over data makes sense, given how quickly the hardware side of wearables is expected to become a commodity.
But Yoffe isn’t worried about that. In fact, he’s betting it will happen, which is why he’s spending so much time on the data and the experience designs for the LifeBeam application and software. It’s also why he’s opening up the experience to other apps, so people can build compelling experiences on a LifeBeam platform. And while the sensing technology is tested by doctors and used to train and track military pilots, it’s generally true that cheaper cannibalizes better over the long term.
LifeBeam was formed in 2010 and raised $2.6 million in a seed round two years ago as part of its move from the defense market into the consumer arena. It’s profitable and is selling “tens of thousands of units” of its hats, helmets and visors, according to Yoffe. From here, the company seems to have the right outlook for a segment of the market where change isn’t just guaranteed, but happens every season.
Fashion moves much faster than technology, so figuring out how to integrate the two seems to demand a flexible and open approach that will let the device fade into the background and work across a variety of devices and operating systems. As we’ve been saying all along, the data and what companies do with it will be the key element here, not the device or wearable itself.