Nikola Hu is running wrong. He’s loping along, leaning back as he goes. Suddenly a voice emerges from his phone: "Your cadence is low. Try swinging your arms legs and arms faster." Hu’s phone knows he's had running injuries before, so it’s hypersensitive to how his feet land on the ground. "Lean forward and land mid-foot to soften your impact," it tells him. He obliges, and the voice comes back immediately. "Good job!"
Hu, a former Apple engineer, is jogging inside this glass-walled conference room to demonstrate Moov, a new wearable device that adds entirely new levels of meaning to the phrase "fitness tracker." Rather than collect and chart data in the hope that simply seeing their habits will help users to be healthier, Moov instead provides a near-constant feedback loop. It’s equipped to not only tell you to move more but to move better. Whether you’re a runner, a biker, a golfer, or a yoga aficionado, Moov’s job is to turn data collection into real-time coaching that’s every bit as effective as a personal trainer.
Coaches and pros are the key to Moov
"This is Dee," says Hu’s co-founder Meng Li, as she points to a woman shadowboxing on her iPhone’s screen, a Moov strapped to each wrist. "She’s actually my coach in real life — but we’re going to introduce her to more people." Coaches like Dee are the key to Moov’s success: the company brought in a number of athletes and trainers and collected data as they worked out. The speed and pace with which they box or run or pedal; the angle at which their legs, arms, and wrists move — every detail is tracked by strapping a Moov to the ankles, wrists, arms, and shoes of the pros.
When regular users work out, your progress and form is pitted against theirs, with constant feedback both visually and audibly.
It’s like having a coach in your face, constantly telling you not only what to do but how to do it better. Except your coach sounds like Siri, and doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars an hour. "We want to provide more actionable information for people to actually move more," Li says, "instead of just saying you should move more." Moov comes from nearly a decade of Li and Hu's research, which focused in part on how runners can tweak their performance to avoid injury. Hu and Li (along with Tony Yuan, the company's third founder) worked with Harvard, Stanford and US Army researchers, plus teams of certified trainers, to develop a system that could collect and process the necessary data to make these changes as you're running, not after you're injured.
When it launches this summer, Moov will support five activities: running, biking, swimming, cardio boxing, and weight training. Each is a separate app — for iOS, with Android coming soon — and in each case Moov is constantly critiquing your pace, your form, and your progress. If you’re doing pushups with a Moov attached to your bicep, the device will know when you’re bending your elbows incorrectly or if you're not keeping your body properly rigid. The boxing app is like a Dance Dance Revolution spinoff, showing "perfect!" and "good!" as Hu punched the air in front of him, and urging "Follow me!" when he gave up, winded. At the end of every workout you get a report of how many calories you burned, your progress against previous workouts, and a score for how you did that day. It’s part gamification, part hard-ass coaching.
The Moov is tiny and modular by design
The Moov itself is a simple circle about the size of a silver dollar. It comes in black and white, and is little more than a plastic case for a battery and a handful of sensors. (The battery lasts 8-10 hours of active use, Li says, which will be about a week and a half for most people — or enough to finish an Ironman in record time.) Moov uses accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers to collect data (not unlike Notch), and uses the company’s proprietary algorithms to turn that data into actionable information.
The parts in the Moov differ little from what you’d find in any other fitness tracker or a smartphone, but they work in concert to collect more and more accurate data than any fitness tracker I’ve ever seen. As Hu punched the air, the Moov registered not only that he was punching, but how fast, plus the exact rotation angle of his wrist. Moov is far more accurate than a Fitbit or Jawbone Up, he says, and he couldn’t say exactly how precise the device is only because "there’s nothing more accurate to compare it to." Li’s only method of comparison is to say Moov is like Kinect without need for a camera, or like the tricked-out labs you see in Nike and Gatorade commercials as athletes run on treadmills.
It’s explicitly designed to be tiny and modular and able to be mounted or clipped onto almost anything. Li mentioned building Moov mounts for bicycle pedals — so it can measure biking the same way it sees running — and for golf clubs and tennis rackets. It's like GoPro, in a sense: a simple technology with new add-ons creating new use cases. The device tracks its movement in space in exact detail, and as long as it knows where it is there’s nothing it can’t measure accurately.
Moov will have five apps, and is already building more
Moov is working on even more apps, too, with yoga and golf first on the list. When I told Li about a golf lesson I took last summer, how the instructor changed my entire game by telling me to turn my left wrist clockwise slightly, she beamed. "Exactly!" Li and Hu are the first to say that their algorithm is improving, and that there’s a lot left to do; the company’s also working with developers to build everything from air-drumming games to even more detailed workout plans. Moov’s data gives it a distinct advantage, and its ability to communicate with its wearer in real time gives it a leg up on every other similar device on the planet. Data is good; data plus feedback can really change things.
Moov will be out this summer for $120 — it’s beginning preorders today for $59.95. I’ve only spent an hour watching Moov work, but if the finished product delivers on the promise of the prototype and the precision of the data, step-counting fitness trackers are about to seem woefully underpowered.