Ever since AgaMatrix Co-founder and Chairman Sonny Vu left the iBGStar-maker last July, industry watchers have kept a close eye on his new startup, Misfit Wearables. After bringing on former Apple CEO John Sculley as an investor and co-founder, raising a $7.6 million initial round of funding with participation by high-profile investors like Vinod Khosla, and building a team of about two dozen people working in San Francisco, Wales, and Vietnam, Misfit Wearables has finally revealed its first offering.
Today Misfit soft launched a simple, all-metal, activity tracker called Shine through crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.
"Everyone thinks we are making a shirt that measures everything, and we're not," Hadi El Heneidi, Misfit Wearables' Commercial Lead told MobiHealthNews. "We're not making a shirt. Our company has been focused both on the consumer side and on the medical side, but as a new startup, by focusing on the consumer side we can benefit from lower barriers to entry. [Starting with a medical product] means starting in a quicksand kind of scenario where you have to worry about regulations."
While there are a number of activity tracker devices already available in the market, Misfit believes that there is room for yet another one if it can deliver a truly wearable device.
"We studied other activity monitoring devices that are out there and found out that the most important thing for people was to find out whether they had met their goal," El Heneidi, who previously worked with Vu at AgaMatrix, said. "In order to keep things very simple our product does not have a display; instead it has a series of LED lights that allows it to communicate whether or not you hit your goal."
Misfit set out to develop a "thoughtfully simple", wearable device that helps people answer the question: 'Am I moving enough?' Shine is carved out of a solid block of aircraft grade aluminum metal by micro laser drills. The company describes its design as "smart, elegant and really strong". The device, which is about the size of a quarter and weighs as much as two quarters, around the wrist with an accessory wristband (sports or leather), or it can clip onto a pocket with a clasp or shirt like a brooch. Since the device is magnetic it is fairly easy to clip it onto clothing. It has a battery life of about six months and a replaceable Lithium battery.
El Heneidi said that a good wearable is something that a lot of people wear for a long time, all the time. That means it needs to be useful. A display that communicates more than what the wearer wants to see is less useful. El Heneidi notes that while Shine is simple it also tracks more than just steps: It can also count cycle revolutions or pedals on a bicycle as well as the number of strokes a swimmer takes. While other activity tracking devices, like Jawbone's recently re-released UP have claimed to be water-resistant, few have committed to waterproofing.
While the device is waterproof, it also has thousands of tiny holes drilled into its surface -- 2,900 of them to be exact. These micro laser drilled holes are what allow the device's LED lights to shine through. Shine uses the LED lights to communicate how much progress toward a goal the user has made as well as which mode the device is in. The device's current iteration requires the user to select an activity mode by tapping the Shine's surface before the device can track steps, strokes, or pedals. The modes are represented by clever LED configurations that look like legs moving, water moving, or a tire spinning. El Heneidi says future versions of the device may automatically determine the type of activity, but for now it needs to be manually selected.
In addition to its novel metallic design, Shine also uses a new form of wireless data transfer, according to the company. Because of its solid aluminum build, the device is not able to leverage the more common wireless transfer technologies like Bluetooth. Instead Misfit said it had to develop its own wireless transfer technology to move the activity data from Shine to an app on the user's smartphone. To move the data users simply open up Misfit's app on their phone, place the Shine device on their phone's screen, and watch as the app recognizes that Shine is present and begins the upload. Once complete the app confirms how far along the Shine user is to their goal.
While Misfit will not discuss its wireless transfer method, but because it also works when the iPhone is in "Airplane Mode", it seems similar to the high pitch sound method -- also known as "data chirping" -- that iPhoneECG-maker AliveCor uses to move data from its ECG device to its smartphone app. Misfit would not comment on that speculation, but said it would likely reveal more on its own method at a later date.
Misfit had planned on launching the product through the better known crowdfunding site Kickstarter, but like many others working in digital health, the startup found Kickstarter to be unreceptive.
"Kickstarter prohibits all fitness, sports, health, and medical products across the board," Vu told MobiHealthNews. "Despite the number of exceptions they've made, they wouldn't bend the rules for us. Indiegogo on the other hand, embraced us with open arms... so the choice was fairly obvious. We made the decision [to go with Indiegogo], then the next morning we got the rejection [from Kickstarter] so it was meant to be."
El Heneidi said that Misfit decided to soft launch Shine through a crowdfunding platform because the company wanted the community's blessing before committing to a full launch.
"We want to show that people want it," El Heneidi said. "Crowdfunding is very different from focus groups where people can tell you they 'might' wear it. Crowdfunding sites like [Indiegogo] make is easy for people to learn about your product and actually have the opportunity to have the product, too. So by offering it early and at a strong pricepoint relative to what it will retail for -- we think it will go well."
Misfit says it will update its iOS app every three weeks in an effort to learn from its community of users and improve its offering quickly. The current version of Misfit's app is basically a GPS-enabled running app currently since the Shine device is not yet available. The company refers to the Shine app as a "smart goal assistant". Users can select an "easy", "medium", or "hard" plan and the app builds an activity plan for the coming week. If the user keeps the app in the know about progress by syncing Shine regularly, the app will know when goals aren't met and begin to adapt the activity plan so that the user can make up missed runs later in the week. It will also send notifications if a goal appears to be out of reach and ask users to help it develop a new plan. Misfit is also launching an open API so that third party developers can create their own apps for the Shine activity monitor.
Assuming enough people sign up to buy Shine devices from the Indiegogo platform, the first Shine devices should ship by March 2013. Indiegogo buyers can get a Shine for about $49, while the expected retail price will be about twice as much. A full retail launch will follow the next month, according to Misfit, if the Indiegogo response is a positive one.
UPDATE 2: After 10 hours, Indiegogo users had fully funded the Shine project with more than $100,000 in pre-orders. UPDATE 1: After about two hours Indiegogo users have already spent more than $40,000 on pre-orders for Shine. Misfit aimed to raise $100,000 between today and December 16th, but within a few hours the company has already met almost half of its goal.