Mio boss: Fitbit and Apple are getting heart rate monitoring wrong

Mio boss: Fitbit and Apple are getting heart rate monitoring wrong

We speak to Liz Dickinson about bpm tracking, and where rivals are missing the mark
Mio: Fitbit are inaccurate with bpm

Liz Dickinson is a busy woman. The former Oracle, AT&T and IBM employee founded Mio in 1999, and built from scratch a company that brought the first strapless heart rate monitor watch to market; a company which now has partnerships with the likes of Adidas and TomTom.

And I'm running late for our meeting at The Wearable Tech Show in London.

The good news is that so is Liz; she's one place behind me in the queue for show passes.

"Did you see the Apple event last night?" she asks me after we'd realised whom one another was. "How disappointing it was," she remarks. It's not the last time Apple would come in for criticism during our time together.

Real heart

Liz is passionate about heart rate monitoring. After the birth of her third child in 1999, she decided that she needed to optimise her spare time so that any periods spent exercising were as effective as possible. She knew this meant detailed bpm-based training but wasn't prepared to wear a chest strap everytime she went for a run.

"I thought it ludicrous that you had to wear a chest strap," she tells us. "Astounding."

"Your heart rate is the best indicator of your fitness level; resting heart rate is a great predictor of how fit you are and, in fact, the best indicator of how fit you are is how fast your heart rate recovers in one minute," she explains enthusiastically.

But she says there wasn't a feasible consumer facing product on the market at the time.

She decided to take matters into her own hands, and on to her own wrist, using her tech industry contacts to create a prototype that QVC eventually showed interest in. The shopping network ended up being Mio's first supplier.

The continuous conundrum

The first Mio product required a user to touch their fingers onto the sensors to get a reading but Liz knew that a band that offered continuous heart rate monitoring was what was needed.

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This was in 2001, over a decade before the likes of Fitbit and Microsoft came to market with their continuous heart rate tracking wearables.

"We designed it from day one to meet the needs of the performance athlete," the Mio CEO tells us. "We took three years to perfect the switch from ECG to continuous."

And it's this dedication and heritage that Dickinson claims puts Mio streets ahead of its new rivals.

Fitbit failures

"Fitbit took a huge risk by introducing heart rate monitoring that they felt was 'good enough' for their consumers," Dickinson explains. "But, by adding heart rate monitoring, they crossed over a line. By putting something in that wasn't accurate they've really alienated a large group of their consumers."

Dickinson is, of course, referring to Fitbit's new PurePulse technology, as found in its Charge HR and Surge devices.

"I know it's not accurate," she states, confidently. "Why it's not accurate is because they've addressed the problem like everybody else in the past has tried to do it with a very singular view of what the issues are.

"They did their best but it's a very complicated problem. Photoresistor technology has existed for decades and it's not an accident that there has never been an accurate heart rate monitor in the market that works at high performance speeds.

"We've tested it. Our consumers have tested it and even Fitbit admits it. They go right out and say 'it's accurate enough for us'. But doesn't the lifestyle consumer deserve accurate heart rate monitoring?"

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Dickinson states Fitbit customers are so unimpressed by the new wearables that they are directly contacting her while seeking heart rate monitor device alternatives.

"I don't really have to get the message out because it's getting out for us," she tells us.

"So I don't have to do anything because are emailing me, they're writing on forums and they're writing reviews. Word of mouth in today's world is the number one factor."

Apple Watch compromises

Dickinson isn't concerned about the threat of the Apple Watch either. While she admits that the Cupertino company's forthcoming wearable will raise the profile of heart rate monitoring for mainstream consumers, she dismisses the Apple Watch as a serious sports device.

"Apple gave up on continuous heart rate because they would have had to make too many compromises with the design and material selection to be put accurate heart rate monitoring in," she claims.

Apple gave up on continuous heart rate because they would have had to make too many compromises

"I think it's going to create awareness, people are going to start to ask the question, 'why do I need to know about my heart rate and what does it tell me?'" she continued.

"The conversation with the everyday consumer about heart rate is now a big deal. It took 20 years at least before people started to understand step technology; a metric related to something as basic as taking steps.

"How long is it going to take to get people to understand metrics related to heart rate, which is nowhere near as easy to grasp and certainly not easy to count?"

What's next for Mio?

Mio currently has four products on the market – the Fuse, the Alpha 2, the Velo and the Link – but there's plenty more in the pipeline.

Dickinson told us that a next-gen sensor is in the works and we can expect to see some "beautiful products" arriving later in the year.

With the likes of Samsung, Motorola and Huawei all slapping heart rate sensors into their Android Wear devices – all of which are inaccurate according to the Mio boss – we couldn't resist asking if yet more Mio partnerships could be in the works.

"I wouldn't be opposed to it but so far no-one's really asked us," Dickinson admitted.

Our advice to those traditional tech powerhouses? Give Liz a call. If our Android Wear reviews have shown anything, it's that they could do with all the help they can when it comes to heart rate monitoring.

15 Comments

  • HRguru says:

    I read the article and was very interested in checking Mio out again. I had one of the early models that required two finger touches and it fell apart after a while. I tried again with the first Mio HRM watch and it was okay, though accuracy was not its strong suit. It was a "good enough" alternative to a chest strap after a couple firmware updates. So I went to Mio's website and was going to buy the Fuse. Ratings looked great. Then I decided to buy instead at Amazon and when I read the reviews at Amazon they were terrible. 

    I went back and re-read the article. Sounds like sour grapes coming from someone who is about to get her clock cleaned ... literally! Promoting your own excellence is so much more effective than knocking your competition. Apple and Fitbit provide awesome user experiences, while reviews and my own personal experience prove that is not the case with Mio.

    40% of iPhone owners are considering purchasing the Apple Watch. It is going to bring many new people into the category, encouraging standing, walking and working out. It will work with all the same apps Mio users work with because they clearly don't use the Mio Go app (it has 8 ratings average 2 stars ... yikes!)

    Mio has been an amazing pioneer in this space but sadly they say "you can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his (or her) back. She sees them coming, hence the sour grapes.

  • Transammatt says:

    I agree with HR. I tryed the fuse and it was not for me. Heart rate was everywhere with hard workouts. I returned it. Let's not even talk about there app. This is where fitbit and apple will shine.

  • chris_hollan says:

    Totally agree with the earlier poster. Apparently the rest of the world is completely fine with the "good enough" capabilities of the fitbit and products like it. I'm sure Liz is a strong advocate for accurate heart rate monitoring for very sound reasons. Unfortunately for her - the masses aren't nearly as concerned. Screaming from the rooftops that we should all be more interested in what is, at best, a nice to have technology in our day to day gadgets probably isn't going to keep Mio in business much longer.

  • jhaze says:

    I couldn't disagree more, respectfully, with the two comments above.

    @Transammatt - I own the fuse and it has been spot on with 2 different chest straps that I have compared it with. I tested it not only with activities like walking, jogging or running, but  with more intense activities like wind sprints, interval training, HIIT training, P90x, Insanity, weightlifting, etc. I also play intense 2 on 2 beach volleyball and it has been tracking my HR beat for beat. The best thing is that for volleyball I'm not even wearing it at an optimal level because wearing it where Mio recommends would interfere with my bumping/passes. As a result, I have to wear it lower on my wrist, which is not the optimal location.  I'm not sure why you did not experience good results; however, the vast majority of users and some of the most respected reviewers (dcrainmaker and thetechyagent), have confirmed Mio's accuracy. In addition, the proof is in the pudding with Adidas and TomTom licensing their technology, vs. Jawbone's or Fitbit's technology, for example. The only other device I have tested that is even close and that is not a chest strap, is the Scosche Rhythm+.

    @HRguru - I'm not sure where you got, "I read the reviews at Amazon they were terrible". Approx. 80% of the 125 reviews were 5, 4 or 3 stars. With the majority being 5 star reviews. Not to mention, any Tom, Dick or Harry can post on that site. If I were you, test it out yourself. You have nothing to lose (you can return to amazon if you are unhappy). Also, read some more reliable in-depth reviews.

    http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/12/fuse-depth-revi...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oWajymDCbc

    I also don't get your sour grapes comment. As a CEO, she is trying to differentiate her product from her competitors, who have a 1000x more marketing dollars at their disposal. From my experience with only one of her products, I completely agree, if you want accuracy, you want a Mio product, Scosche product or a TomTom or Adidas, which uses Mio tech. If you want all the bells and whistles, like phone notifications, but just "good enough" HR tech, go with a Fitbit, Applewatch etc. 

    I owned both the fitbit charge hr and surge and they were continuously 30-50 bpms off during high intensity exercise. When I starting researching accuracy, I found Mio and now I couldn't be happier. I have a feeling that Mio will add bells and whistles too, in the future, which is so much easier to add than perfecting optical wrist-worn HR technology. Mio has a 10 year head start over their competitors in HR accuracy and even Adidas and TomTom know it is better to license MIo tech than try to start from scratch. 

    MIo is a privately held company, but, if i could, I would buy their stock in a heart beat or even contribute to a kickstarter to help them raise capital. They are the David going against the Goliath and in my opinion are winning in the accuracy space.

  • jhaze says:

    I couldn't disagree more, respectfully, with the two comments above.

    @Transammatt - I own the fuse and it has been spot on with 2 different chest straps that I have compared it with. I tested it not only with activities like walking, jogging or running, but with more intense activities like wind sprints, interval training, HIIT training, P90x, Insanity, weightlifting, etc. I also play intense 2 on 2 beach volleyball and it has been tracking my HR beat for beat. The best thing is that for volleyball I'm not even wearing it at an optimal level because wearing it where Mio recommends would interfere with my bumping/passes. As a result, I have to wear it lower on my wrist, which is not the optimal location. I'm not sure why you did not experience good results; however, the vast majority of users and some of the most respected reviewers (dcrainmaker and thetechyagent), have confirmed Mio's accuracy. In addition, the proof is in the pudding with Adidas and TomTom licensing their technology, vs. Jawbone's or Fitbit's technology, for example. The only other device I have tested that is even close and that is not a chest strap, is the Scosche Rhythm+.

    @HRguru - I'm not sure where you got, "I read the reviews at Amazon they were terrible". Approx. 80% of the 125 reviews were 5, 4 or 3 stars. With the majority being 5 star reviews. Not to mention, any Tom, Dick or Harry can post on that site. If I were you, test it out yourself. You have nothing to lose (you can return to amazon if you are unhappy). Also, read some more reliable in-depth reviews.

    http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2014/12/fuse-depth-revi...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oWajymDCbc

    I also don't get your sour grapes comment. As a CEO, she is trying to differentiate her product from her competitors, who have a 1000x more marketing dollars at their disposal. From my experience with only one of her products, I completely agree, if you want accuracy, you want a Mio product, Scosche product or a TomTom or Adidas, which uses Mio tech. If you want all the bells and whistles, like phone notifications, but just "good enough" HR tech, go with a Fitbit, Applewatch etc.

    I owned both the fitbit charge hr and surge and they were continuously 30-50 bpms off during high intensity exercise. When I starting researching accuracy, I found Mio and now I couldn't be happier. I have a feeling that Mio will add bells and whistles too, in the future, which is so much easier to add than perfecting optical wrist-worn HR technology. Mio has a 10 year head start over their competitors in HR accuracy and even Adidas and TomTom know it is better to license MIo tech than try to start from scratch.

    MIo is a privately held company, but, if i could, I would buy their stock in a heart beat or even contribute to a kickstarter to help them raise capital. They are the David going against the Goliath and in my opinion are winning in the accuracy space.

  • Transammatt says:

    @jhaze

    I may give it another try. Only worked out with it a few times. I seen my heart rate go over 165 a few times! Never seen it that high using a fitbit surge.maybe my surge is reading low,and sometimes at the peak of my workout the surge does loss the heart rate .

    Thanks 

  • HRguru says:

    @jhaze

    Your comment is posted twice which makes me wonder. 

    First of all any Tom, Dick or Harry are the masses. Are you implying that people who are less tech savvy than you should not be allowed to post reviews?

    The fact that you read DC Rainmaker, LOL and admittedly I do too (he rocks), tells me that you are a techno geek early adopter. It takes one to know one.

    Keep in mind that David had an advantage that Liz does not, David had God on his side when he battled Goliath. If I was a betting man, I would guess that in this battle Goliath will prevail.

    And you say there are no sour grapes when she disses Fitbit and Apple? Apple once sold Mio in their stores and on their coveted online store. No more. Sour grapes.

    Given her sour grapes and her probable lack of divine intervention, perhaps it would be better to compare Mio and Apple to Karelia Software and Apple. Karelia's founder, after witnessing a demo at Apple where they "borrowed" his innovative ideas in a product called Watson (add-on to Sherlock 2) and rolled them into Sherlock 3, got a call from Steve Jobs in the early 2000s.

    The founder loosely paraphrased Jobs at http://www.karelia.com/blog/the-long-story-behind-...

    "Here's how I see it," Jobs said. "You know those handcars, the little machines that people stand on and pump to move along on the train tracks? That's Karelia. Apple is the steam train that owns the tracks."

    I hear the train a com in' ... It's rolling round the bend (to quote the great Johnny Cash)

    Liz better turn on her Mio and get anaerobic pumping that handcar. The Apple Watch is coming around the bend!

    That said, you talked me into, I have nothing to lose. I am going to try the Mio Fuze. Maybe I'll even keep it and use it as a backup HRM when my Apple Watch battery is low.

  • fb_1385 says:

    Fitbit is now on sale only at BestSmartwatchOffers .com

  • BZ101 says:

    If you don't have competition, you don't have a business.  Regardless of the ultimate capabilities of the Apple Watch's training, they'll sell a bazillion of them ... and there's still room for others.  

    The fitness world is a land grab as the market is so new in the grand scheme of things.  So there's room for lots of participants as people find their niche.  E.g., as healthcare costs rise, more and more companies will look to reduce costs by leveraging good behavior (sort of the car insurance model of lower premiums for safe driving records) or as people push their bodies further for training what will they use on their wrist ... an activity tracker or a serious training device for HRM (including HRV, VO2 Max, recovery period, etc.).  So if your employer buys activity trackers for all employees and insurance companies lower premiums for consistent active behavior, guess what will eventually be on your wrist -- a $350 Apple Watch or a $100 activity tracker?  This is just one example of the landscape changing.  There are so many aspects of fitness tracking that have yet to even surface and have not played out yet.  But it will be a huge driver of personal behavior and the economy moving forward.  

    So I think the point in the article above and Liz's comments is that Mio has it's niche with accurate optical HRM during training.  It's the reason Adidas and TomTom licensed the technology.  It's incredibly difficult to build accurate optical heart rate monitoring and naive of companies to think they can just step in and create a good device.

    I do not work for or have a financial stake in any of these companies, but have a  personal interest in them and the industry as a whole. 

    Bottom line is Mio's technology (along with Valencell) are the only two reliable optical HRM hardware and software combinations.  It's a combination of the LED/sensor and the algorithm to understand blood flow during strenuous activity (including skin color, hair density, body temperature, ambient light leak, etc.).  The software part takes years to develop accurately (and still can't compensate for poor hardware -- see Fitbit's problems which are well documented).

    Liz is 100% right ... Fitbit's technology is not good, Jawbone is so delayed because getting it right is hard (and they even admit v1 won't work well during exercise) and I'm sure Apple wanted 24/7 HRM, but found that the sacrifice to do it accurately would be on watch size and battery life (both of which are clearly not something Apple would seriously consider sacrificing).  So people are learning as they go.

    Mio's advantage as Liz puts it is in accurate training optical HRM.  They target athletes which happens to be more of the market than you would think (close to half right now).  Most consumer devices are off the person's wrist within 4-6 months and never used again.  Athlete's continue to train with them.  So if you look at their target market, accuracy during high intensity is what people need and where Mio excels.  It's the reason Garmin has been successful with their activity specific devices (e.g., swim, run, golf, etc.).  Hardcore folks have high demands.  I do not see Mio being a top player in the sub-$150 activity/step tracker business.

    This article is by no means sour grapes or trashing the competition in hopes to win points for yourself.  Mio will never be as big as Apple or likely sell as many devices as Fitbit (who targets the couch potatoes).  That's not the point.  Her comments are an accurate reflection of the state of the industry and how accurate optical HRM for training is essential.  And that's where I believe Mio will succeed.

  • ZeApelido says:

    I work for a pretty unknown competitor to these companies in optical HR tracking. 

    Suffice to say, all of them are not very accurate. Mio is indeed better, but that is relatively speaking. Our devices are more accurate than Mio, but still, we all fail to be near the accuracy of a chest strap. 

  • HRguru says:

    So as it turns out, reports coming out now show the Apple watch and Mio are nearly identical.

    • Ann says:

      can you send links to these reports?

      • snafunaafi says:

        I own a fitbit and can tell you its a piece of dangerous junk and before the, I think its great brigade jump on this comment. I shall tell you why I am highly qualified to state this.

        5 years ago I was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrilation and feel nothing. First discovered on a piece of gym equiptment with a pulse monitor, I can go from 75BPM to over 160BPM and over.

        I have several polars with chest straps and stop on hitting 160BPM, but wanted a strapless solution, hence the Fitbit.

        I dont trust manufacturers and as such worked the fitbit in tandem with a polar. I had an A Fib attacked with my Polar screming 210BPM and my Fit Bit stating 95BPM. I went over to a gym x trainer with a heart rate attachment, it confirmed my Polar was right.

        My attack only lasted 3 minuets and went back to 120BPM, in all this time my ignorant fitbit never went over 100BPM.  So lets get this right, any idiot who tells me that a heart rate monitor does not need to be acurate need a sharp kick in the backside. If it was not for my Polar I could of had a heart attack and Fitbit a court case. Thats if I survived.

        I am about to buy an Alpha 2, as most review I read describe it accuracy.

        • Bob1111 says:

          AFIB does not cause heart attacks.

  • Kivi says:

    having just bought my wife a Fitbit surge a few weeks ago I can tell you that I feel it was wasted money given its inability to track heart rate even remotely accurately while exercising.  Running both a garmin chest strap device as well as the Fitbit surge we can see how absurdly poorly the surge measures heart rate. Tonight the garmin was measuring 140-150 bpm while she was exercising on her bike trainer.  The Fitbit at the same time was giving her readings of 85 bpm and declining.  This happens every time during intense exercise, which of course makes her Fitbit Surge useless.

    As an aside, I have an Apple Watch which I did not have expectations of being accurate during exercise.  Surprisingly it has so far been giving heart rate readings that completely match the readings I get from my garmin chest strap device.  I'm very disappointed with the Fitbit because I thought it would actually be a superior device to the Apple Watch for measuring heart rate.

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