Amazon launches wellness wearable, to compete with Fitbit and Apple Watch

By | August 28, 2020

Dive Brief:

  • Amazon on Thursday forayed into the crowded wearables sector with the launch of a wristband and smartphone app.
  • The so-called Halo Band comes with sensors, including an accelerometer, temperature sensor, heart rate monitor and two microphones, though lacks a screen. New capabilities include monitoring a user’s emotional state by listening to the tone of voice and using a three-dimensional rendering of a user’s body to track body fat percentage.
  • It’s a notable move for Amazon, as the space is already dominated by key players Apple Watch and Fitbit, the latter currently undergoing regulatory review for a $ 2.1 billion acquisition by Google. Fitbit stock dipped slightly premarket following the news, but had rebounded as of late morning.

Dive Insight:

Gartner estimates the wearables market could reach $ 52 billion this year. Some payers and employers hope the devices can help cut healthcare costs, though proof of wearables’ efficacy in actually moving the needle on health and wellness is shaky at best.

In recent years Amazon has ratcheted up its presence in the multi-trillion healthcare industry through cost-lowering effort Haven, virtual care pilot Amazon Care and acquisition of at-home prescription delivery platform PillPack. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant already manufactures some wearables, including smart glasses and wireless headphones. But with Thursday’s announcement, Amazon is throwing its considerable weight deeper into the space.

The device and app have similar capabilities as other mainstream wellness trackers, including tracking sleep length and quality and awarding points for exercise. In one twist, users can lose points for prolonged periods of rest, moving away from the step-based model of Apple and Fitbit devices.

And unlike other market offerings, Amazon claims it can measure body fat percentage, a more targeted measure of health than body mass index or weight that’s normally a tricky and expensive metric to track. The device has users take a series of photos of their body with their smartphone camera and uses a niche branch of artificial intelligence and machine learning to glean insight from the visuals, 3D mapping the user’s body.

Halo also uses machine learning to analyze the energy and positivity in a user’s voice to get a sense of their emotional state and communication abilities. The capability is most accurate for American English speakers, but is improving on other accents and dialects, Amazon said.

Tech behemoths have consistently found themselves in hot water for perceived mishandling of, and capitalization on, consumers’ health data. Amazon said any health data collected by Halo is encrypted in transit and in the cloud and consumers are able to delete data. Body scan images and voice snippets are both automatically deleted after processing.

Amazon is storing consumers’ de-identified health data, but pledged never to sell the data to any third parties or correlate it with any other data Amazon stores, per a privacy whitepaper. The company won’t be able to use the health data to recommend products on Amazon Prime, for example.

Halo also includes in-app challenges and workouts from Amazon and other brands, including the American Heart Association, therapy app Headspace and academic medical giant Mayo Clinic. The app can also be integrated with other third-party programs, including the wellness program from John Hancock, a Boston-based payer. John Hancock, the first life insurer to integrate with Halo, has a similar program with Apple Watch.

Amazon Halo is also integrated with the software from EHR giant Cerner, with the goal of helping users share health data like body fat percentage, activity and sleep data with their physicians directly from the EHR. Sharp HealthCare, a San Diego-based provider and Cerner client, will be the first health system to implement Halo in a clinical setting.

The Amazon Halo band and 6 months of app membership will be sold for early access at $ 64.99, eventually shifting to $ 99.99.

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