Atlanta’s Wahoo Fitness on the Future of Wearable Technology, Big Brother & the Importance of Looking Beyond Step Count

Just a few years ago, the only source for “workout data” was that weird heart rate monitor clip on the treadmill. Nowadays, we wear devices everywhere, tracking our sleep and exercise levels, then syncing the data with activity apps. And wouldn’t you know it? Atlanta’s own Wahoo Fitness is one of the companies innovating this kind of exercise technology — creating devices that go beyond your average step counter to gauge and record the quality of your reps, your running smoothness, cycling cadence, stride rate, and heart rate. Their exercise sensors work with the computer you already take everywhere – your smartphone – so you can monitor and improve performance. Pretty cool. For this week’s Friday Five, we matched strides with Wahoo’s Director of Marketing Michelle Gosselin Halsey.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.18.02 AMHow did y’all get into the business of fitness technology?

The founder, Chip Hawkins, an avid fitness enthusiast, found it frustrating that most fitness platforms were closed and that he often had to use more than one device to collect all of the data that he wanted to get from his workouts. He thought that if he could get his workout data into his iPhone, he could easily manipulate and share it. That was back in 2010 when Apple was just opening up the iPhone to allow third-party devices to connect to it.

We love Atlanta, but when it comes to technology companies, people think of Silicon Valley first. Why was Atlanta the right place to start Wahoo?

Silicon Valley may be the epicenter of the fitness tech market, but Atlanta was the right place because it is home. We are focused on producing real products, not proposals for VCs [venture capitalists], which is sometimes the focus in Silicon Valley.

What do people need to look for in a fitness or workout tracker?

There are a lot of different types devices that track your activity. Fitness trackers measure your activity (e.g., steps) and sleep 24/7, while workout trackers are focused on the hour or so a day when you are exercising more vigorously. When you are exercising, heart rate is the single most accurate measurement to understand how your body is responding, so it’s important to have a watch or app that can measure it. Understanding your heart rate can help you reach your goals, whether you want to lose weight or just feel fit. Today, data collection and analysis is easy and understandable, compared to just three years ago. The cost of technology and been reduced as well, which makes devices much more accessible to more people.

You’re pretty plugged in when it comes to technology. What’s your prediction for the future of wearables? Will my “smart” refrigerator someday tell my tracker that I ate pizza instead of salad?

[Laughs.] Hopefully in the future it won’t be that hard to sneak in a piece of pizza every now and then. As the wearable market progresses, devices are becoming more and more sophisticated. At this point, devices essentially provide a snapshot of your entire workout but don’t guide your actions and activity. A device can tell you if you are above or below your target pace, but it can’t tell you why you may be performing particularly well or poorly — for example, you may be below your target pace because you are over-striding. Coaching and analysis are likely to be a part of the next wave of workout wearables, which isn’t that far off. Devices in the future may tell you to shorten your stride so that you can hit your mark. Our TICKR X and TICKR Run workout trackers provide stride rate, and TICKR X only counts quality repetitions as a part of our 7 minute workout, so if your form is way off, it will let you know!

Not to get all Big Brother on you, but do you think there’s any merit to concerns over how activity data could be used?

There shouldn’t be much concern over how activity data could be used, but we’re still in somewhat of a discovery stage with all of this information. Devices typically don’t require personal information that would put anyone at risk for security or privacy concerns though.


Keep in step with Wahoo Fitness on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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