Known for its suite of fitness apps, the Austrian company first forayed into wearables last year when it introduced a cycling sensor and GPS watch with a heart rate monitor. Runtastic's latest wearable, Orbit, is a 24-hour tracking band that monitors activity and sleep quality.
Like Fitbit's bands, Orbit, which retails for $120, consists of a removable module and clunky silicone band that measures close to an inch wide. (The box includes an additional band, as well as a clip-on holder.) The device, which is waterproof to 300 feet and lacks a heart rate monitor, vibrates to alert users when they're halfway to their goals, when they meet their goals, when they've been inactive for a set amount of time, or when an alarm goes off. Orbit, which Runtastic employees tested in a sleep lab for months, also breaks down sleep into light and deep slumber. The corresponding app, which syncs with the device over Bluetooth, scores users' sleep efficiency on a scale of 100%, with higher percentages translating into better quality sleep.
Most of this sounds pretty standard when it comes to fitness trackers and apps these days. However, the company is banking on insights provided by its new Runtastic Me app to distinguish Orbit from the competition.
Take, for example, an ambient light sensor and happiness tracker. Orbit is actively collecting data on light intensity and moments when people indicate they're happy, which is done by pressing the tracker's button twice. At launch, insights around these metrics won't be available to users, but Runtastic CEO Florian Gschwandtner tells Fast Company the data team behind the Me app will analyze correlations and extract insights. Are Orbit wearers happier when they spend their day in a bright environment? Does more time sleeping result in a better running pace? The company is also developing algorithms to measure swimming and cycling cadence. "The good thing about the hardware is we can do firmware updates" over the air, Gschwandtner says.
Runtastic envisions Orbit as a second screen for runners, other athletes, and casual consumers. Instead of having to pull out their phones, users could ideally consult this wrist-worn device for real-time running stats. By default, the tracker's monochrome OLED screen only displays time, steps taken, calories burned, and active minutes for the day. When it is connected to the Runtastic app, it can also show activity duration, distance, current pace, average pace, average speed, and calories burned. Eventually, other apps within Runtastic's family will also be compatible with Orbit.
Since I don't like to lug around more than I need on a run, my testing typically consisted of strapping on Orbit and leaving my phone behind. The results made me question the accuracy of Orbit's measurements as a standalone monitor. According to Google Maps, a route I commonly take through Golden Gate Park measures 2 miles, but the Me app registered the run as 1.6 miles. A representative said the device measures distance based on height and average stride length, and suggests that, for more accurate results, one uses Runtastic's flagship app (which uses phone GPS) and syncs that data to Orbit.
Compared with the Yves Behar-designed Jawbone Up, Orbit is far from attractive. Gschwandtner says the company iterated on about a dozen prototypes before arriving at its current design. "We wanted it to be a good-looking product," he says. "But you're right," he adds later, "we wanted a screen, and it's definitely a bit bigger."
Given that Orbit barely launched, he didn't have a timeline on when consumers can expect a slimmer version, or when its data scientists will release updates to analyze new data, such as the effect of sleep on running pace. Runtastic Orbit holds a lot of promise—as well as a loyal following, especially in Europe—but without anything tangible to distinguish it from the ilk (not to mention its high price tag—Jawbone Up's price was slashed to $80, and Fitbit Flex retails for $100), there lacks a compelling reason why consumers should buy Orbit now. Waiting, it appears, could give users a better-looking product and more insightful data down the line.
[Images courtesy of Runtastic]