Jawbone, the sleek line of innovative Bluetooth headsets, is seriously on the move raising funds from venture capitalists who have opened the coffers. Only four months ago, its privately-held company parent company, Aliph, announced $49 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, and now it’s raised $70 million from unnamed investors through JP Morgan. On the heels of this news, a press release revealed what all the investor excitement is about: Jawbone has developed a health tracking wristband that monitors eating habits, sleep patterns, and physical activity levels, and sends this data to your phone so you can assess your lifestyle against your health goals through a mobile app. The wristband is called UP and is slated to arrive at the end of 2011.
Considering their current product offerings, Jawbone’s entry into the emerging market of health monitoring devices may seem odd. On the surface, the Jawbone ICON and ERA Bluetooth headsets appear to be just stylish ways to make hands-free calls, but these headsets go beyond simple earpieces. Both are equipped with Aliph’s military-grade noise cancellation technology, appropriately called NoiseAssassin, which demonstrates a commitment to filtering out desired data from background noise. Furthermore, the quality of the audio in the ICON allows it to replace headphones, and in the ERA, the audio is in HD. The headsets are designed to connect to multiple devices, allowing users to switch rapidly between them for convenience. Additionally, Jawbone offers a number of apps for the devices through their MYTALK platform to make devices more versatile and extend the lifetimes of older models with software updates. Finally, the ERA headset has a built-in accelerometer which enables users to double tap the device to answer a call or shake it four times to pair the device to a phone.
Jawbone is entering a market that currently has a startup star: Fitbit. Fitbit is a clip-on device that has a 3D sensor to monitor all of your physical activity, serving as an exercise tracker, pedometer and sleep monitor. The website also allows users to log foods they’ve eaten, exercise, activities, and weight. It comes with a base station that the device uploads to, which is then sent to a website for online analysis. Recently, Fitbit formed partnerships with a number of companies, such as RunKeeper, About.Me, and Microsoft, to utilize their API to access user data for development of services and products. While these are exciting developments in the health tracking arena, access to this data is not without its problems, as Fitbit learned when user sexual activity data was inadvertently showing up in Google search results – yikes.
With the technological advances that have been made in these product lines, as well as their wireless speaker Jambox, Jawbone may be just the company to deliver a wristband for health monitoring that finally is embraced by a broader consumer base than Fitbit, especially because it connects to mobile devices directly. A few details about the UP wristband were reported by a PSFK correspondent from this year’s TEDGlobal, which Jawbone is sponsoring and where they made the announcement about the UP device. It will come in white, grey and blue, has a multifunctional button at one end, and vibrates when switching modes. It appears to be a passive device rather than one that requires interaction throughout the day, implying it is designed more for the general public, instead of the exercise aficionado.
It’s promising to see a health tracker handled by a company that has demonstrated innovation, versatility and deep insight into what consumers want out of their tech. As a startup, Fitbit came out of the gate with their announcement too early and forced consumers to wait a long time before they actually had the device in their hands. Last year, it was reported that Fitbit raised $8 million in funding, which seems paltry to what investors are throwing at Aliph after it has expanded its reach into the global market to 28 countries.
Here’s hoping that the investment amounts reflect what the VCs have seen under the hood in terms of UP’s ability to penetrate into the market.
Finally, it’s worth noting that this is only the beginning for health trackers. As we’ve previously described here at Singularity Hub and dubbed Body 2.0, the potential to acquire and analyze huge amounts of real-time data about the going-ons in our bodies is technologically possible albeit unrealized. Products like Fitbit and UP are just the baby steps in what is an exciting emerging technology that promises to revolutionize medicine and even public health. It is encouraging to see both startups and crossover companies tackle body monitors and bring lots of ideas to the table. As momentum builds and more companies start jumping into the game, we look forward to the day when a wristband or other small, convenient devices are as common place as mobile phones.