Withings is a company with an interesting mission -- making it possible to send health information directly from measuring devices to the internet, where the data can be shared with personal computer and mobile apps. The company has just started selling its new Blood Pressure Monitor (US$129.00) in the United States, and over the weekend I tried one out.
I already have a Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale ($159), and I find it to be an indispensable part of my daily health regimen. I step on the scale every morning and let it blast my weight to the Withings website. I've been using one of the many Withings-compatible iOS apps, Weightbot ($1.99) by Tapbots, to monitor my weight fluctuations. I can also visit the Withings website to look at the raw data, share it with several services, like Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault (I use neither), or create a PDF of weight and blood pressure to send to my doctor.
Probably the coolest thing about the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor is that it is made to work only with iOS devices. If you have an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, you're set. The setup process is incredibly simple -- you just unlock your device, if you have a lock screen set up, and then plug the cable into the Dock Connector on the iOS device. Chances are pretty good that when you start using the Blood Pressure Monitor, you won't have the free WiScale app on your device, so the monitor "tickles" your device to see if the app is there, and sends you to the App Store to download it if is not.
WiScale is designed to display your weight and blood pressure history, and it's also the app that runs the Blood Pressure Monitor and captures the BP data for you. To send the health data to Withings for sharing purposes, you need to either set up a new MyWithings account through the app or use an existing login.
That's pretty much it for the setup, as the monitor comes with four AAA batteries pre-installed. There are no Wi-Fi settings to make, since your iOS device is used to send the blood pressure data to Withings.
Taking your blood pressure
As with any blood pressure monitoring regime, you should plan on taking your pressure with the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor at the same time each day for consistency's sake. I chose to take mine first thing in the morning.
Your monitor has a cuff with a nice springy curl to it and the standard Velcro patches to make sure it is tightly attached to your upper arm. The electronics for the device are in a polished aluminum tube on the cuff that also aligns the cuff on your arm properly. Per the instructions that are printed on the tube, you align the cuff with the pulse point on the inside of your elbow, with the cable pointing down towards your iOS device.
With the WiScale app launched and the iOS device plugged into the monitor, a blank blood pressure screen appears. You can either press the large green Start button to begin the process or switch users and then press Start. The display on the iOS device shows that a measurement is underway, and a small fan icon begins to turn as the pump inflates the BP cuff. Eventually your pulse appears as a beating heart icon, the cuff begins to deflate, and finally, your diastolic and systolic blood pressures and pulse rate are displayed.
At that point, you can tap the blue Done button to quit or press Start again to take your pressure again. There's also an auto mode, which takes your blood pressure three separate times (with a pre-set time period in between each test) and averages the readings.
Viewing the results
After the blood pressure reading has been made, you get immediate feedback. If the diastolic and systolic blood pressure readings are in the normal range, a green dot appears next to the number. Likewise, if your pulse appears to be in the normal range, you'll see a green dot next to the beats per minute count. For any of the readings, a yellow dot is sign for concern, while a red dot indicates a situation that you may wish to share with your healthcare provider.
There's a "thumbwheel" at the bottom of the results to scroll back and forth through your BP readings. If you're bringing in weight data from a Withings scale, you can see your latest weight and that day's BP reading by flicking between two screens on the display.
Remember that the app has also sent a copy of that blood pressure reading to the Withings site, and it's easy to share that and your weight data with a health professional or personal trainer.
For anyone with a family history of high blood pressure who wants to keep track of his or her BP automatically, the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor is a worthwhile and easy-to-use tool. Having used a lot of less expensive cuffs in the past, I can't say that the Withing monitor is going to give you any more accuracy or make your BP magically go down, but it does make keeping track of your blood pressure history a snap. I found the device to be faster than many less expensive cuffs, and I like the three-reading average that is available in auto mode.
If you're a middle-aged guy like me whose background includes many ancestors with heart and blood pressure problems, your doctor has probably told you to keep an eye on your BP. The Withings Blood Pressure Monitor, coupled with your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, is a fast and fun way to get into that healthy habit and share your information with your healhcare provider.