Inside Amazons scrapped its plan to make Halo a fitness hit
Fitness Trackers

Inside Amazons scrapped its plan to make Halo a fitness hit

Before a wave of layoffs shut down Amazon’s Halo division, the team behind these products had ambitious long-term plans to better compete in fitness and health. Through discussions with current and former Amazon employees, The edge learned that Amazon has a roadmap for Halo that includes a sophisticated AI-powered fitness service, celebrity-led exercise classes, and more.

Amazon’s Halo brand debuted less than three years ago and introduced consumer health and wellness gadgets designed to take on Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin and other rivals. First came the distraction-free Halo Band, then the Fitbit-like Halo View, and most recently the Halo Rise smart light. But after declining sales, last week Amazon abruptly exited the Halo business, stopped offering all three devices and announced that existing units would stop working this summer.

For some customers, the news seemed brutal. As recently as March, Planet Fitness was still teaming up with Amazon to give away free Halo View fitness trackers to eligible gym members. The employees were also caught off guard: they were working on Halo’s biggest expansion yet. Later this year, Amazon planned to introduce a revised Halo Digital subscription service. It was to include an advanced AI-powered fitness trainer and celebrity-led fitness classes. The company had also decided to branch out and support the Apple Watch with its upcoming software.

None of this will happen now. In an internal email seen by The edgeAmazon said it was exiting the category due to significant headwinds including an increasingly crowded segment and an uncertain economic environment.

But until recently, and even amid disappointing hardware sales, it seemed like Amazon was still determined to push forward. The basis of the plan was a revamped Halo mobile app with deeper customization and more powerful training tools. The edge got internal mockups of this now canceled Halo software update.

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In a fortuitous moment, Bloomberg recently announced that Apple is developing an AI-powered health coaching service that aims to keep users motivated as they pursue exercise, diet and sleep goals. This paid offer, dubbed Quartz, could make its way to consumers in 2024.

Turns out Amazon was working on a similar concept for Halo before it all went wrong. Codenamed Donna, the project was to include a Halo AI Trainer that would use computer vision to assess users’ workouts and monitor their progress, an approach some fitness apps have already attempted.

Similar to Apple and other competitors, Halo Fitness classes already had the ability to show real-time metrics such as heart rate and intensity zones, but the app couldn’t analyze movement or s make sure you are performing the exercises correctly. That’s where computer vision (and your phone’s built-in camera) would come in. Trainers will lead these workouts, but unlike traditional Halo Fitness workouts, the recordings are computer vision-enabled and add tracking of forms, rep counts and detailed performance metrics in the post-workout summary, reads an internal Amazon document.

Some Amazon employees were less than impressed with the AI ​​trainers’ camera vision

But within the company, early beta feedback on AI trainer performance wasn’t too positive, and even Amazon’s own employees expressed pause over having a camera analyze and share them. data with Amazon during workout routines.

Halo Digital was tentatively slated to launch in Fall 2023 from Amazon for a price of $7.99 per month. Perhaps realizing that Halos’ origin point-based activity tracking wasn’t as appealing as the rewards and praise offered by Apple and Samsung, Amazon intended to bring more gamification opportunities. to the service by adding milestones, achievements and badges.

To promote plan adherence and habit formation, clients will receive badges and rewards for streaks/achievements/milestones, can easily schedule workouts with reminders, make changes to workout day based on duration, preferences (eg, cardio instead of strength), or their current energy levels, reads Amazon’s internal documentation on Halo Digital.

The documents also point out that the company was working to significantly expand the selection of premium and Peloton-like interactive fitness classes available to subscribers. The Halo team aimed to release 20 new content every week in 2023. Amazon had tapped celebrities to record workout classes at its Seattle-based Halo studio. Competition with meditation apps like Calm was also on the agenda: Amazon recruited John Stamos and Eva Longoria to record bedtime stories for Halo Digital. This work was largely complete and boxed, but has now been completely scrapped.

Looking deeper into the future, the team saw inroads for Halo Digital in the health insurance industry and potentially as a health and wellness benefit for the company’s own workers. We are exploring Halo as a social benefit for Amazon, we will incentivize employers to offer Donna as a benefit they can provide to employees, the documentation says. As we gather evidence of Donna’s impact, we will begin collaborative discussions with health plans and self-insured employers to offer Donna as a covered benefit beginning in plan years 2024.

Interestingly, Amazon was also hoping to broaden the appeal of its Halo software by introducing Apple Watch and HealthKit support, which would have allowed Apples smartwatch owners to participate in the same subscription-based training as Halo device owners while completing their rings and hitting Apple’s usual activity targets.

Aside from the daunting competition, Halo Band and Halo View each had their own hardware issues that sparked customer complaints. In the case of the band, the plastic covering its sensor array could peel off the device. During this time, the Halo View tended to detach from its band too easily or develop cracks at the point where the tracker and band meet.

Amazon was aware of this latest flaw and quietly updated Views’ design to fix it, our sources say. At times, the company briefly halted the marketing of Halo to fix the issues, which only slowed the momentum further as new competitors arrived.

Both the Halo Band and View have averaged review ratings of just below four stars on Amazon’s website, while the company’s more established product lines, like Fire speakers TV and Echo regularly hover around 4.5 stars. But the mixed reception hasn’t stopped Amazon from pushing its Halo lineup on shoppers. Customers who asked Alexa fitness-related questions, like what’s a good yoga mat? would be segmented and targeted with Halo ads. The company has acknowledged that it does this stuff, but that doesn’t mean customers are necessarily aware of it.

The amount of data collected by Amazon on [Halo] customers is amazing, a source said. Although we never looked at individual user data, we were able to see the percentage of people who used each aspect of the product and created cohorts to target based on usage. We also closely track competitor sales on Amazon to make product decisions.

But none of this data was enough to turn the tide. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has been aggressive in cutting back on efforts that aren’t reliable sources of revenue for the company. While even well-known Alexa and Echo divisions are feeling the effects of Amazon cuts and sweeping layoffs, Halo didn’t stand a chance.

The company now finds itself with a huge inventory of unsold Halo products. According to people familiar with the matter, Amazon has a remaining inventory of more than 500,000 Halo View and Halo Rise devices. This may explain the recent promotions of gyms.

Before publishing this story, The edge presented Amazon with several of its key points to allow the company to comment on or refute anything it considered inaccurate. We have nothing to share beyond our statement and blog post, spokeswoman Kristy Schmidt wrote via email.

My colleague Victoria Song gave a good explanation for Why Halo failed: Amazon was terribly late to the party, and the few outstanding software features provided by Halo, such as voice pitch analysis and 3D modeling of a user’s body, proved more peculiar than practical .

The Halos body fat calculator had its proponents and was scientifically sound, but it also raised body dysmorphia issues. Tonal voice analysis, while certainly unique, torpedoed Halo Bands battery life. Let’s face it: there’s also the underlying reality that some people are reluctant to store their health data with Amazon in the first place.

Above all, and since the internal email was exposed, Halo was a small fish in a big pond, and Amazon was unlikely to break through. It seems the company has finally realized that even Halo Digital won’t be enough to overcome such entrenched competition.

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