We’ve seen many dazzling new consumer technology products launch in 2012, with many more expected by year end. Amid the bang of the Microsoft Surface, iPhone 5, and Google Nexus, it would be easy to miss the quieter product launch today of the larklife, the second product released by Lark Technologies, a 21-person startup located in a Mountain View shopping center. As I’ve been researching my soon-to-launch report on the bigger story of wearables, Lark caught my eye, and I was completely blown away by the demo I saw of their new product last week.
What it is: A sleek blue wristband for the daytime, with an actigraphy sensor that syncs via Bluetooth 4 with Low Energy (BLE) with the iPhone 5 (and is backwards-compatible with other iOS devices). The sensor pops into a fuzzy gray breathable microfiber “pajama” wristband to track your sleep. The sensor tracks your sleep quality (and can gently wake you up with the same vibrating alarm feature of the original Lark product), your daytime activity (not just exercise but also milder activity like housework and inactivity like typing and driving), and your eating patterns. The data collected by the sensor (3,000 data points per minute per person) is interpreted by machine-learning algorithms, which are informed by Lark's team of experts in sleep medicine, circadian rhythms, and behavior-change psychology. Then—and this is the really cool part—the algorithms give you positive feedback and advice via the iPhone app, in an elegantly simple, non-data-geeky interface. For example, it might say, “You slept two hours less than usual last night—trying having some extra protein for breakfast.” If you sit too long inactive at work, it will vibrate and encourage you to take a break and give you science-driven tips on increasing your creativity and productivity. At the end of a long day, it might encourage you to call a friend. All the recommendations are based in the science of how to optimize your energy throughout the day, mitigate stress, and encourage happiness.
When I look at the larklife, I see the beginning of a new phase of personal computing that will transform the way we live and work. I am not exaggerating. Bluetooth SIG, the trade organization representing the Bluetooth standard, expects 20 billion BLE devices to ship by 2017. Its CMO, Suke Jawanda, told me that he doesn’t expect that growth to come from smartphones: “We’re already in those,” he says. “We expect growth to come from wearables and other sensor-laden devices.” In the first half of 2012, venture capital firms invested $700 million in private companies developing sensor-laden devices, including BodyMedia, Jawbone, Livescribe, Recon Instruments, and Zeo, according to Rutberg & Co., an investment bank that tracks VC funding. Those sensor-laden devices will collect enormous amounts of data about our physical bodies and the physical environments we inhabit. Smart products like larklife will take that data and help people make more informed decisions about everything from health to relationships to finances. We are just at the beginning of the "smart body, smart world" paradigm of personal computing.
In the context of this greater market growth, there will be many products that are duds or appeal only to niche pockets of consumers. Here’s why we see greater potential in the larklife:
- It broadens its value proposition beyond fitness. One of the most common questions I get about wearables is, “What will tip these products toward more mainstream consumers?” My answer is that the product needs to return a clear benefit to the consumer that has broad appeal—beyond counting steps or meeting fitness goals. If you told most busy people—especially women—that they could pay $149.99 (the retail price of the larklife) to be more productive at work, have more energy to play with their kids and spend time with their partner when they get home, and feel more refreshed when they wake up, I think most people who could afford it would take you up on that offer.
- It piggybacks on existing technologies and habits. Using the infrastructure already in place with the iPhone (display, processor, internet connectivity), connecting via BLE, means that Lark is able to manufacture its device relatively cheaply. “We're similar to a $5,000 sleep monitor, and we can do that because we do our processing in the cloud and the phone,” says Lark CEO Julia Hu.
- It combines great industrial design with intelligent algorithms and behavior-change psychology. Wearables that are just interesting hardware, or second screens for your smartphone, won’t cut it. The larklife breaks into new territory because the hardware is just a starting point—it’s about the data, how they interpret it, and how they present it to the user in a way that’s not boring, overwhelming, or demotivating, but thoughtfully crafted to encourage more intentional living.
We have three recommendations for Lark’s product strategy: Expand to more devices (they’re currently hiring Android developers, and Windows 8’s native support for BLE holds appeal, too); sell through more distribution channels (they’re currently in Apple Stores, which is a great start, but they could expand to many more channels); and integrate more data sources (what would the algorithm do with data mashed up from your Starbucks and Mint apps?). Overall, we’re quite impressed with the product so far, and we’ll definitely have our eye on where the young company goes next.