Spire Health Tag: Is this what the next generation of wearables should look like?

Is This What the Next Generation of Wearables Should Look Like?

Is This What the Next Generation of Wearables Should Look Like?

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Nov. 16 2017 12:01 PM

Is This What the Next Generation of Wearables Should Look Like?

A new wearable wants to fade into the background.

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The adhesive-backed device sticks to your clothes.

Spire

The promise of a wearable is enticing. Using a device like a Fitbit or Apple Watch, you can track your vitals and your activity stats to see how your health improves over time. But today’s wearables have a few noticeable problems. You have to remember to charge them and put them on each day—they can’t do their job if they’re sitting in a drawer. Then, you have to comb through the data; wearables tend to provide you with a lot of information, but not much insight into what that data means or how you can use it to improve your well-being.

A new device, the Spire Health Tag, aims to solve those issues with a different style of wearable health tracker. It rethinks the way a wearable should look, how it’s worn, and how you interact with it on a day-to-day basis. It’s soft and discreet, attaching to the inside of your clothing or underwear via adhesive, with notifications that only pop up on your phone as needed.

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“The reason people buy [a wearable] is for the outcomes,” Spire co-founder and CEO Jonathan Palley said. “It’s not about the device. The device is an unfortunate necessity.” In 2015, Spire debuted a $130 wearable “stone” that tracks activity and mindfulness. It’s seen success with the device: With $8 million in sales, the clip-on tracker is the only activity tracker available for purchase from the Apple Store besides the Apple Watch. But that was version 1.0. In its second act, Spire has set out to make the device disappear.

The Spire Health Tag is different from most of today’s wearables. It’s a thin, adhesive-backed tag wrapped in a soft Ultrasuede material. It’s shorter than the length of your thumb and doesn’t look like a gadget. The only external clue that it houses electronics inside is the tiny optical heart rate monitor near its center. Instead of sitting on your wrist or clipping to your shirt, you stick the device to the inside of your bra, underwear band, pajamas, or workout clothes. The tag, designed to withstand the rigors and high temperatures of a washer/dryer, works passively in the background, measuring your heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, activity, and other stats. The accompanying app only gives you notifications when action is needed to help you toward your health and wellness goals. You can select those goals in the app as one or more “programs”: Stay Active, Reduce Stress, Sleep Better, Get Fit, Stay Calm, and Heart Health.

Spire’s Health Tag isn't the first to give adhesive-backing a shot—last year, a Band-Aid-like heart rate monitor debuted—but it may be the first to have figured out a successful way to adhere a tracker not to your skin, but to your clothing, long term, bridging the gap between today's wearables and connected clothing. Like today’s wearables, it’s portable, which means you can get the device’s health tracking regardless of what clothing you wear. While its adhesive is semipermanent and designed to last up to two years, you can peel off the device and restick it on something else, if you choose. Buyers can purchase packs of three, eight, or 15 of these tags, depending on if you want to attach it to all your wardrobe staples, only your underthings, or just your workout wear. But more like connected clothing, the device fades into the background, only demanding your attention on your phone if the tracker detects you’re more stressed than normal, getting worse quality sleep, or could use some more exercise intensity to reach the day’s health goals.

The app, looking at your vital stats compared with your baseline, uses artificial intelligence to decide what to recommend you do and when is a good time for that recommendation. Palley, for example, has the goals of staying active and reducing stress. He’ll get recommendations along the lines of “We noticed you’re stressed, it’s a great time for a deep breath or a walk” or “This morning was more stressful than your normal morning. It’s the optimal time to take a break at lunch.” If you’re doing great, you may not see any notifications from Spire at all for several days. But if your stress levels skyrocket or you start having trouble falling asleep, the app will step in with recommendations.

The Health Tag has a shelf life: Its nonreplaceable internal coin cell battery will die after about 18 months. When this happens, you can return your expired tags to Spire, which can recycle and reuse all of its components and materials. The company will offer a discount on replacement tags, which are currently available for preorder at $99 (for a three pack ), $199 (for an eight pack), or $299 (for a 15 pack) and begin shipping in February.

As a cross between today’s wearables and connected clothing, the Spire Health Tag sounds appealing if you’ve ever failed at remembering to charge wearable gadgets or put them on each morning. It seems small and soft enough that you’d forget you’re even wearing it. And while it’s disposable, the company has managed to make the device as eco-friendly as possible. If the main reason you wear a smartwatch or activity tracker is for the wrist-based notifications, this isn’t the wearable for you. However, if you’re hoping to improve your health, fitness, or sleep—and perhaps don’t want to be bugged constantly with app notifications—the Health Tag could be the wearable experience you’ve been craving.

Christina Bonnington is a technology writer whose work has appeared in Wired, Refinery29, the Daily Dot, and elsewhere.