Switched On: Where the Withings are

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|11.17.09

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Switched On: Where the Withings are
Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

There is a sleek new Wi-Fi tablet on the market that is only 0.9 inches thick, gets months of battery life from four AAA batteries and is so durable that its manufacturer encourages users to regularly step on it. After all, it's a scale -- the Withings WiFi Body Scale.

The market for Internet-connected fitness gadgets has come a long way since 2000, when SportBrain introduced a pedometer that used a modem-equipped docking base to upload physical activity records. The past few years have seen products for fitness enthusiasts such as the Garmin's ForeRunner watches and the Nike+ system for iPod, but they are now migrating to more casual personal data nerds. Recent tech products like the Fitbit (a modern-day reworking of the SportBrain) can measure your activity throughout the day and night and the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach can provide detailed reports on your sleep patterns. But all these products digitally measure efforts at healthier living -- few have digitally measured results.

While weight is far from an absolute indicator of health, it is certainly one that many consumers monitor closely. A modern dark glass and metal affair with a backlit display, the WiFi Body Scale can track the weight of up to eight people. It also calculates an estimated BMI based on a height measurement given during setup and lean body mass by measuring your body's capacitance. As with other scales that estimate body fat and lean body mass, one must weigh oneself in bare feet to obtain this measurement.

As there's no way to enter any data on the scale, it must be set up from the PC using a supplied USB cable or by using the WiScale app for the iPhone/iPod touch. After that, using the scale can be the standard exhilarating or deflating experience

The Withings Wifi Body Scale is a silent, non-judgmental servant that provides no positive reinforcement other than a trend line.

depending on the change you see. Those used to the chatty banter of the balance board in Wii Fit will find the Wifi Body Scale is a silent, non-judgmental servant that provides no positive reinforcement other than a trend line.

The iPhone app and Withings' website provide a colorful user interface that allow you to graph changes over time. The iPhone app takes advantage push notification to remind you of new measurements. While you can export data from the Web site, the service would benefit greatly breaking out of its data silo and playing along with the Web sites of other fitness gadgets to facilitate seeing the impact of activity.

Withings also recently added Twitter support so you can tweet your weight, although it's questionable whether weight is something that changes often enough to merit frequent updates. The WiFi Body Scale could be a useful motivator and useful tracking tool for someone looking to improve their overall fitness level, but at this point it is more of a novel harbinger of the networked appliance and the era of comprehensive personal health data and self-monitoring. If Withings can build out its service to include things such as fitness tips, integration with nutritionists or personal trainers, sites such as eDiets or weightwatchers.com, motivational messages and the like, then the WiFi Body Scale will have much greater weight in the marketplace.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.

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