Sports Wearables: Same or Different?
Sean Everett
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A Few More Differences, Another Comparable Platform

A few additions here Sean Everett:

  • WHOOP doesn’t compete against Apple Watch in the sense of audience, its competition is Polar, Percor, and a few others. The ones I mentioned are leading training platforms for athletes — the former invented the [consumer-facing side of the] space in the 80s, the latter basically did a crazy good job making fitness machines and servicing them for small and medium-sized fitness facilities. From both of those beginnings they’ve basically made inroads to personal trainers (people as certification trees) and competitive sports. Polar is pretty unique here in that they don’t just have a product line for professional athletes aligned with their devices and platform, but also a stream for those who are personal trainers. I’m not sure about others doing the same; I am familiar with groups of trainers building social network like apps to do stuff like this. These don’t have the doctors, certifications, or hardware behind them Polar and WHOOP do.
  • There are a few wearables who do the heart rate and sleep as key metrics. Apple Watch grew into this, Polar, Garmin’s Vivofit line, FitBit (growing into this), Misfit, and a few more. Jawbone was actually the leader (consumer-facing) in making this association. They must have done something decent, because outside of the few medically trained folks I know, they weren’t all that slammed for quality of data. I wear a sleep-tracking ring (Oura — read Embracing to Oura Ring) and was using Polar’s devices for four years before this; the science and studies validating their approach seems similar to what I read of Polar’s.
  • Apple (initially?) copied what Polar was doing well from the data collection side. HR was very close to what the Polar H7 chest strap was giving folks; that device is considered the high-water mark for consumer use, any more than that you need the medical-grade devices and a pulse-oxygen reader. They combined that with what Fitbit realized on the consumer end — fun and other people matter more than raw data. They are getting better there, and to that end, haven’t seen any one take Apple Watch and ResearchKit to try and do similar to what WHOOP and Polar have done for professional teams. Not that it’s not possible, just I’ve not seen it yet.
  • Really a great play for WHOOP to not go to ordinary consumers and just do athletes. Quantified data has hit the major contracts of all USA professional sports and right now, WHOOP data is not owned by the team unless the team bought and provisions the devices. At least for the initial athletes who used it, they went under a personal trainer/coach, which makes it a lot easier for them to say they’d not like to have that data used for/against them in future contracts. That said, the tracking tech that’s hitting fields of play might make non-gameplay data less valuable depending on who’s crunching data. The recovery stuff is strong for sports. Australia actually leads like crazy there.
  • UPDATED POINT: there are very few wearables which do recovery rates alongside activity rates. WHOOP was one of the first to offer this, and tied to the intensity of the person working out. What I’ve not been able to tell is if they baselined those recovery metrics to anything (honestly, other than the sleep council folks, I don’t know who has that isn’t in the medical industry). My Oura ring does the recovery bit, and that’s been quite revelatory. Accelerometer and a few other pieces in there, combined with a bit of algorithmic magic, and you get a personalized prescription for an athlete to be their best every time, without needing to go into the machine (tanks, ECG, etc.) which while giving better data, takes way too much time.

For those of who were athletes, it actually makes sense to invest in a fitness tracker and get some sense of what your new normals are. Usually, heart rate and calorie burn rates will be a bit higher than the normal population, and that may incite different approaches to how one maintains a healthy lifestyle. While things like getting up each hour, sleeping at regular cycles, and varied exercise modes are universally valuable, what it does for the athlete — besides keep memories of youthful activities fresh — is also creates a sense of wholeness towards what it means to grow and change. The psychology of not being the same athlete that we used to be, is a hard one to come to grips with. The data helps soften the blow.

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