Amazon Halo - Health & wellness band and membership

Chalk me up as one who didn’t see this coming. Then again, maybe this bit of tech news is wholly fitting for 2020.

Amazon is entering the fitness tracking business.

Amazon Halo is a screen-less “health & wellness” band that promises to track sleep and activity, in addition to providing analysis of body composition and, interestingly, tone of voice analysis. Analyst firm estimates the wearables market at $52 billion this year, providing a clue as to why Amazon is now entering.

Halo costs $64.99 USD features a zen-like fabric design and is available via Amazon, but only by request as part of the early access program — you’ll need to fill out a short survey and then wait for your request to be fulfilled. There is a membership required. No surprise there. And Amazon is again counting on a low price point to perhaps help get its foot into this competitive market. After the included free six month membership expires users will need to auto-renew at $3.99/month. By comparison Fitbit Premium costs $9.99/month. Apple Watch users who use the Activity and Health apps do not need to pay a monthly fee. Note: if you don’t pay for a Halo membership you still get basic sleep time, heart rate, and step tracking.

Three colors are available including Black + Onyx, Blush + Rose Gold, and Winter + Silver.

In addition Halo comes in three sizes: small, medium, large.

Aside from all the standard functionality features you’d expect in a fitness tracker such as measuring activity and providing daily metrics such as step count and overall fitness trend reports, Halo brings a few part tricks to the table.

One unique feature not found on other trackers (at least to my knowledge) is “Body Composition.” According to Amazon you’ll be able to measure your body fat (BMI) with Halo. To record this measurement the Halo app will use your camera, in the process creating a 3D model of your body based on various body indicators. Like so:

Amazon Halo - measure body composition over time
Amazon Halo can use your smartphone camera to render a 3D model of your body including body fat measurement.

For many this will be equivalent to mild torture. To some it will be an invasion of privacy. And perhaps for others it will be a neat feature to try to help get healthier. I’m not sure where I stand on this one, but I am interested to try it out.

Another unusual — quirky — thing you can do with the upcoming Halo fitness band is analyze your voice tonality. “See how you sound to others” says the marketing copy:

Amazon Halo - see how you sound to others
Using built in mics, Halo will record your voice and analyse the tone of delivery. This could be a very interesting feature for the back half of 2020.

The Halo app can provide analysis, determining throughout the day whether your “high energy” or “negative” and so forth. Amazon wants to encourage better tones of voice and speaking styles in hopes of improving communication (and world peace).

Do you want to give Amazon more of your personal data?

No question many — myself included — will be skeptical about providing yet more personal data to the behemoth that is Amazon. But the alternatives are just tech giants in similar markets with similar products. Google now owns FitBit. Apple makes the Apple Watch. And any number of inexpensive fitness trackers such as FitBit are made in China. So at the end of the day you’ll need to choose your poison. Or just be cautious with how much information you provide and focus happily on getting healthier while on lock down.

Going forward, if Halo is successful, I’d expect Jeff Bezos to quickly attack with more product. We’ve seen this time and time again. Echo speakers were a huge hit and look at how many variations of those you can find on Amazon today. Meanwhile the Facebook Phone was a flop and it was quickly cancelled. Experimentation is the order of the day, as is iteration. One example for an extended Halo would be something like a Halo Plus edition. If I were expanding the product footprint I’d give that one a screen and some smartwatch features and price it around $149 USD. Then there could be a Halo Deluxe… with built-in GPS, Amazon Music, and so forth. Halo is likely a tip of the iceberg when it comes to Amazon’s plans to attack the fitness market.

If I am able to get one I’ll be very curious to test its accuracy and the above mentioned party tricks (body composition and voice tone analysis). I’m one of the metric freaks. Ever since we bought a Peloton bike earlier this year — a Pandemic Peloton — I’ve been tracking my fitness trends with possibly manic obsession. That means wearing both an Apple Watch (left) and Fitbit Versa (right) all day and poring over data in Strava, Fitbit and Apple Activity and Health. It can make one’s head spin how many ways you can slice and dice fitness data.

So what to think of the Amazon Halo?

Given its low price point ($69 USD for the band + $3.99/month for the service) I think Halo already offers a compelling value proposition for budget conscious shoppers — keep in mind a BMI scan alone could cost $80+ at a lab. Add to that Amazon’s huge marketing firepower and ability to bundle stuff and promote heavily (Prime Day) and you can expect people at FitBit (Google) and Apple are paying close attention here.