Now that weâre all trapped at home and face an indefinite future of remote work, we have a lot more time to visit the fridge, raid the pantry, and sit in our home offices. It also provides ample opportunity for us to notice how weâre not walking as much, working out, or fitting into our mostly-unused work clothes.
I already wear an Apple Watch thatâs tracking my steps, heart rate, and keeping me abreast of incoming messages and news (but not yet sleep, though thatâs on the way â thanks, watchOS 7). I donât really need another wrist-based device.
On the other hand, Amazon Halo is the anti-Apple Watch, leaving behind a screen and notifications for a laser-like focus on watching your personal health and wellness. Itâs also not just hardware: Itâs the Halo Band and the Halo Service. You can get the Halo wrist band and 6 months of service for $69.95 (itâs normally $99.95). After that, thereâs a $3.99 a month subscription fee. This leads to my first question:
As another Amazon Service, similar to Music or Video, can it be folded into Prime or at least added as a $10-a-year premium?
Amazon Halo Band tracks sleep and fitness in its own Amazon-y way. Instead of just tracking steps or various kinds of exercise and activity based on duration, it credits you more for the intensity of activity. A run, for instance, gets you more than a walk. It may also be the first service to penalize your scores for not moving around. This leads to another question:
Does Amazon worry that weâll come to resent a device that criticizes our life choices? To be fair, I already resent my Apple Watch for pestering me about standing up and breathing.
In some ways, these features are still table stakes in the world of personal fitness devices. Things get interesting in Haloâs âBody Fat Percentageâ tracker, which, for what itâs worth, doesnât even need the Halo Band hardware. The system uses your smartphoneâs camera to build a realistic-3D image of you. Yes, you have to strip down to your skivvies and take a photo. You also have to share your height and weight. Machine Learning and Deep Neural Networks then come up with a BMI (Body Mass Index). Thereâs even a slider that lets you see how you might look with a different BMI.
Why does Amazon make you upload your likely embarrassing (maybe Iâm projecting here) near-nude photo to its cloud for analysis?
Amazon promises to delete the image as soon as the faceless AI is done, but I donât like it.
Itâs also especially confusing when you consider the other marquee feature, the ability to analyze your tone of voice (read emotion), is all done locally. It, too, uses AI, and a pair of Halo Band hardware mics, to figure out if youâre speaking in a friendly, calm, stressed, or happy tone, but it does the analysis on your phone.
To have such divergent approaches on a single service is a real headscratcher. Itâs like one team didnât talk to the other.
Leaving aside these privacy concerns, I do have other questions about Tone. Amazon says the appâs AI analyzes vocal attributes like pitch (is my voice too high?), intensity (am I screaming?), tempo (am I speaking too fast?) and rhythm (am I â¦singing?) to understand the tone of your voice.
The Halo Band doesnât arrive listening to your voice. You have to train it and allow the pair of mics to listen. I know Iâd soon forget I set it up and then, when I looked in the app, be mortified at how I spoke to my wife, kids, and the cable guy.
Does Toneâs voice analysis improve over time? I talk a lot, especially now that Iâm so often alone in my home office and need to keep myself entertained. Can Haloâs Tone analysis service use that to get smarter?
How many false positives should I expect? Thereâs no way Haloâs system will be able to tell when Iâm kidding.
How often should I feel bad that I raised my voice? Sometimes I shout just to be sure that my wife, who might be upstairs, hears me. I am NOT angry.
What about other languages? Perhaps tone of voice is the same no matter what language you use. I mean, I can tell when someone is yelling in Chinese, even if I canât understand a word theyâre saying.
Perhaps my biggest question is why thereâs no Alexa on the Halo device. Itâs not that Amazon is concerned about sending information to the cloud. (Remember our mostly naked bodies?) It has the mics and will be on us all the time. Maybe it has to do with the Tone feature and that integrating Alexa mightâve lead to confusion: Are you talking to your friend and Haloâs Tone should be listening, or are you talking to the Halo Band and Alexa should listen in?
I give Amazon credit for taking a slightly different health, fitness, and wellness wearable path and, with it, at least a couple of big swings. Iâm too self-conscious to take a seminude photo of myself (even for the sake of fitness), but I would love to test-drive Tone.
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