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Tech Tidbits: Basis closes up shop, Strava announces live tracking platform

Here’s my thoughts on two noteworthy news pieces that just hit the interwebs.

Basis firms recall, shuts down services

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You may remember earlier this summer when device maker Basis announced that users should cease using their Basis Peak devices due to overheating issues that could cause burns.  Well yesterday that transitioned that into a formal and full recall of the devices:

“On June 13 we shared reports of overheating in Basis Peak watches, and we recommended that you stop wearing your Basis Peak watch right away. We had hoped to update the software on your watch to address the problem. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we aren’t able to develop such a solution without completely compromising the user experience. As a result, we are asking that you return your Basis Peak watch and authorized accessories for a full refund at your earliest convenience. This was a tough decision, but your safety is our top priority.”

This wasn’t really a surprise per se, despite ‘only’ impacting 0.2% of purchases.  While earlier statements had noted they wanted to solve it via software, I think most people probably knew that wasn’t realistically going to happen.  All roads were likely leading to a hardware change/recall, and not something software could solve with 100.0% certainty (as opposed to 99.8% certainty).

However, what came next in the announcement e-mail was definitely out of left field: They’d be shutting down the service altogether:

“Although we are stopping support for Basis Peak immediately, you can access your data until December 31, 2016. After that date, the Basis Peak services will be turned off. Once we shut down the services, your watch will no longer be able to sync, which will cause it to stop working.”

Yes, for real. They’re actually shutting down services entirely.  This is an unfortunate end for a device (and a company) that really pioneered advanced data collection.  You’ll remember about 5 years ago when they first showed off what they could do in terms of optical HR sensors, skin temperature and perspiration sensors.  No other consumer device has come close to that on the market.

And this impacts more than just the Basis Peak, but also the 7 people still left using the Basis B1 watch (the original watch).  You can see that on the refunds page:

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Officially Basis hasn’t said what will happen after this for the company, but it seems pretty clear that things are wrapping up.  There’s no rising from these ashes (unless Intel sells it off).  Once the clock hits midnight on December 31st, Basis is basically gone forever.  I’d never trust the company again with another device.  It’d be one thing if they recalled the device while they sorted things out (like Fitbit did with the Force a year or two ago), but kept the platform running otherwise.  But shutting the platform down is shutting down the company in the tech world.

Of course, it was a bit over 2 years ago when Intel acquired Basis in March 2014.  You’ll remember I’ve been concerned about the acquisition, because Intel generally sucks when it comes to consumer focused goods.  One only has to go to the spectacular Intel booth at CES every year and see all these media-eye catching consumer prototypes each year, but none of them actually make it to market under Intel branding.  They’re great at OEM related transactions, and providing components for other companies.  They rock at that.  But trying to be a consumer focused entity? Nope.

Now Basis notes that you can (and should) export your data, they even note it’ll be in CSV format:

“If you wish to export your fitness data, open the Basis Peak app on your mobile device, navigate to the ‘Settings’ section, and select ‘Export Data’. Data is exported in .csv format, which can be manipulated in programs such as Excel. You can access your data until December 31, 2016. After that date, the Basis Peak services will be turned off. Once we shut down the services, your watch will no longer be able to sync, which will cause it to stop working.”

Except here’s the dirty truth about CSV data for fitness: It sucks.

A bunch of open-data people just gasped.

Yet everyone in the sports tech industry just nodded their head.

Why does it suck?

Well, every company does it (CSV) differently.  So yes, I can export all my data from Basis.  But then I dump it into Excel and have to massage the crap out of data to make sense of it.  I can’t move that data to another platform to actually make it shine like Basis does below.  Other platforms don’t know how to make sense of it, because it’s in what is effectively a proprietary Basis format/style.  While it may be open CSV, that doesn’t mean anyone can actually use it in other platforms without doing a bunch of work.  Further yet, nobody even supports the data types that Basis has generated.  It’s not like Garmin or Polar or whomever even has an option for skin temperature.

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Of course, the real problem with Basis was twofold.  First, their lack of innovation in a market moving at screaming fast paces.  I suspect that the Intel acquisition, despite all its money, caused too much disturbance to keep things focused on new hardware product development.  The second issue was that Basis was unable to transform a niche product into something with wider appeal.  While a smaller pre-Intel company probably could have made the niche data of the Basis units work from a revenue standpoint, once you look at the revenues of a company like Intel, then the numbers by Basis were likely less than the annual employee consumption of M&M’s by vending machines in their buildings.

Which brings all eyes focused on Recon Instruments, who was acquired by Intel last summer and makes the Recon Jet and various ski/snowboard goggles.  In talking with numerous Recon employees since the acquisition, all have seemed happy there with the support they’re getting from Intel (especially financially).  But at the same time, the product still hasn’t seen a hardware refresh.  Despite them being the leader in the sports heads up display arena, there are numerous competitors coming on the scene with slimmer and sleeker options.  Market realities will eventually catch up: Ship new stuff or die. Simple as that.

Strava announces Beacon tracking service:

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Strava today rolled out their Beacon tracking service, which will transmit your location to a pre-defined list of contacts automatically when you use their app for running or riding.  The app will then send the contacts a text message showing the location of the person.

To access it, ensure your app is on the most recent version (the current app versions do include it already).  Then, hit the ‘Record’ button at the bottom of the app as if you were starting a new session.  Next, hit the little button to the right that shows a human head with radio waves enumerating out from it.  I assume it means that person is radioactive.

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That takes you to the next screen which lets you add contacts (seen below).  When you enable Beacon, it’ll give you a warning.  The warning basically says that if it doesn’t work and you end up lost and not found forever, it’s still not Strava’s fault.  Once enabled, it’ll allow you to customize the message.  I added the important part about ice cream, just to minimize any concerns from The Girl.

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Next, you can add up to three contacts:

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Once done, you’ll be brought back to your main page, where you can see the ‘Send Text’ button’.  If you just click the ‘Send Text’ button it’ll send a message without starting yet.  If you tap the Record button without touching ‘Send Text’ first, then it’ll actually ask you if you meant to send a message.  In either case, it’ll enumerate up the text message screen:

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Which…is just too many steps.  There’s no logical reason to show the text message screen at all.  Just send the darn thing, even if I press record without pressing text (since that’s why it’s shown directly above the button anyway).  Simplify, simplify, simplify.

In any event, once the message is sent, then the recipient will receive a text message from you (not a tracking service) with a link to the activity:

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If they go ahead and click on that link, they’ll see a map of where you are, and where you’ve been.  They’ll also see your paused state.  It seems to have three categories: Auto paused, manual paused, and activity completed.

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I like the three state differences, though I’m not sure The Girl would otherwise know what automatically paused really means.  Does it mean I’m at a stop-light just waiting?  Or does it mean I was hit by a car at that intersection?  Obviously, I could disable auto-pause…but food for thought.  But manually stopped is actually useful to her, since she’d know I pressed the button to stop it and am likely just fine.

Also, I like the transmission of battery state.  That’s also useful to her, since if it showed something like 5%, then she wouldn’t likely worry when the battery died.  Oh, and obviously this depends on your phone for cellular coverage and data transmission.

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Note that the Strava Beacon does require a Strava Premium membership (that’s the paid one), which is reasonable enough.  Of course, if you have a Garmin device, then this basically duplicates that functionality when used with the Garmin Connect Mobile app.  The Garmin functionality also sends over additional sport metric data.  But on the flip-side it doesn’t send pieces like battery state data (of the phone or the device).

From the sounds of things however, Strava and Garmin are looking to work together to see how and if they can integrate the capability more closely between the two platforms.  In some ways there’s already so much overlap on this feature that it might be difficult to really bring much user value out of doing so.  Whatever it would be would have to be pretty much no-touch, and all done transparently.  But, happy to see what the two companies can cook up!  Plus, it may be more useful for companies like Polar, Suunto and others that don’t have their own live tracking platforms, to leverage Strava’s.

With that – thanks for reading!

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46 Comments

  1. Now that the Basis Peak is dead in the water, what is the best waking heart rate monitor that has decent analysis and trending software behind it?

    I used a Fitbit Charge HR, but its reporting was rubbish. It just seemed to give you average resting heart rate rather than walking heart rate making it pretty useless.

  2. Matthew

    CSV – One file type, one million configuration options

  3. Stu

    Did you just give away the Girl’s name?

  4. Mateo (from Strava)

    I was able to get Basis data into HealthKit earlier this year using a paid app ($2.99) called “Health Importer”. Basically takes csv files to HK data. I had to break up the data into multiple files and only cared about certain metrics. YMMV.

  5. Ray Jasicki

    How does the live track work from a data perspective? I’m just curious from a data plan consumption on how much is used on a ride. It’d be nice to use either the Strava or the Gamin Ap to show the wife where I’m at, but I’m stingy with my data usage.

  6. Sonny

    Do you expect Strava Beacon to eventually use the iPhone’s accelerometers for crash detection? The Edge Explore and I think the Edge 820 have this feature built in but older models that are still current (Edge 1000 & 520) do not have the hardware to support this feature. To my knowledge, the Wahoo Elemnt does not have the hardware either. I currently use ICEdot but has to be charged and connected separately to phone. Seems the accelerometers in the iPhone could detect crashes.

  7. Lambo

    Any thoughts on the upcoming Philips Health Watch? Seems like the closest replacement for Basis coming out soon-ish?

  8. TR

    I wish they would finally address and fix running of an Android Service called GoogleNowAuthenticationService despite never logging in with Google (Strava account). I’ve been talking to the helpdesk for months and after the rep said the engineer is going to take a look at it, I got an email a day later that the ticket will presume the issue was fixed if I don’t reply. At that point I stopped caring and deleted the app.

    Tried out Strava 5.0 beta couple days ago and it’s still running the service, so I’m not trusting them to responsibly handle mobile device resources.

  9. theboxers

    Has the Basis site crashed or been overwhelmed by people trying to get on it. I can’t get on to it with any device.

  10. Nathan Budd

    When this becomes automatic, ie when I press the ‘start’ button on my Garmin, it notifies the wife that I’m starting a ride, then we’ll talk.

    In the mean time, Garmin’s implementation of this is awful, having to go through the app to send invites, and Strava’s is moot, as I don’t use the app to record.

    Could Something be done with GarminIQ to auto send via the phone on start (and perhaps send again if HR = 0)

  11. Alan Solot

    My wife doesn’t have a smart phone so the texted link requires her to re-type it in her browser. What happens if an email address is used rather than a cell phone number as a contact? Will that work?

    • Craig

      With regard email and txt, that’s the reason I still use the RoadID app, for its txt and email alerts if I stop. The wife isn’t so much concerned with where I am, although that can be handy for when I’ll be late for tea, she does want to know if I stop and don’t disable the warning.

  12. Erik Schneider

    It’s unfortunate for Basis that things had to go this way. Sadly, I’ve been using it since January 2015 or maybe before, and it’s been a wonderful device. Once I heard about this and then started seeing the refunds and lack of information update, my fiancee and I took the refund (now own a Garmin Fenix 3 HR and the fiancee owns a FR735XT). Sadly, this isn’t my first rodeo as both of us were screwed by Bodymedia’s “acquisition” (aka, thank Jawbone for the money and bail without any consideration for their users). At least Basis was nice enough to refund the full amount of watches bought (with tax) and accessories for both of us. I wish they had released an updated Peak 2 and also introduced a community feature to keep people interested in their watch and fitness goals (their milestone point/unlock system was useful for about the first month you had the watch then you just infinitely gain points without being able to unlock anything else). RIP Basis.

    • Greg O

      Which one do you like better? The Fenix 3 HR or 735XT? I was looking at both of them to replace my Basis and haven’t decided yet.

    • Erik Schneider

      I enjoy my Fenix more but the lightness of the 735xt is amazing. Not quite as durable due to being plastic and not having a sapphire glass screen, but it’s still pretty good. One thing to consider is the Fenix 3 HR is based on the Fenix 3,which is a year old. It won’t be supported by the newest connect features, but the 735xt will. So if you want the newest Garmin software goodies and a lightweight aspect, the 735xt wins. If you want durable, trail ready tracking, the Fenix wins.

  13. Strava basically added something you can get for free with Life360 :-/

  14. Drew

    Does anybody know if either Strava Beacon or Garmin Livetrack show both the athlete and the contact/spectator/significant others location (when viewed on GPS capable device)?

    The use case that I’m faced with this weekend – running a trail race with spectator routes – would be nice for my spectators to be able to tell when I’m getting close to them (which would be easy with just my location in a city, but not in a wooded area where the trails aren’t visible on maps).

    Thanks!

  15. Chris S

    “Of course, if you have a Garmin device, then this basically duplicates that functionality when used with the Garmin Connect Mobile app.”

    Well this is true… except that my wife and I have found garmin live tracking to be hopelessly unreliable. It works great when it works, which is about two-thirds of the time.

    • Lars

      Endomondo has been offering this feature since many years. Its really easy to use and my family and buddies would see my workout (including live stats i.e. heart rate, cadence, distance, average speed etc.) right away in their newsfeed in the endomondo app. You only have to decide once whether only your contacts or everybody can follow your workouts. So it’s pretty simple, since you only have to hit the start button when starting the workout… After the workout I use SyncMytracks in order to sync the workout to my Strava account.
      Hope this helps!

  16. Steven

    Anyone know of a small device that can broadcast your location to your family during a race. I want to let my family see where I’m at during a long triathlon, bike/run. I don’t want to carry my phone, too big and against some rules. I’d like this to also cost less than $100. Thanks

  17. AJ

    I lucked out with the Basis– bought it for 70 bucks new on ebay just prior to the recall, used it aboit 2 weeks, hated it, and got a refund of 234 (they don’t care what you paid for it).

  18. Chris

    “But shutting the platform down is shutting down the company in the tech world.

    Of course, it was a bit over 2 years ago when Intel acquired Basis in March 2014. You’ll remember I’ve been concerned about the acquisition, because Intel generally sucks when it comes to consumer focused goods.”

    DC, I suppose you’re filing this one under “I told you so?” ;)

  19. Bruno

    that would be a great moment for a new post called: what i recommend to track your resting HR, now that Basis is dead… pleeeeze?

    • Fredric Luthman

      Seconded. I loved my Basis Peak to bits, I wore it close to 24×7 for well over a year. I’ve been around checkens out the “competition” but have found what’s out there lacking.

      In the mean time I’ve resorted to using my iPhone with various apps and Apple Health as a repository for daily activity tracking (i.e. step count). For runs and rides I’ve been using iSmoothRun.

      I had high hopes for the M400 replacement, but anything associated with android gives me hives.

      The thing about the Peak is that the band and form factor was very comfortable, it was very stealthy and perfect for wearing to work. The large font and excelling back lighting meant that I could see what time it was at Night without having to put on my glasses.

      Sleep tracking was equally excellent with very few positives.

      Very sad indeed!

    • Mick Wall

      Yep, i’m in the same boat.

      Ray/anyone, what would you recommend for accurate waking heart rate tracking?

    • Deb Schwartz

      Fourthed – I love my peak and haven’t yet figured out what to replace it with. I’ve looked at the Pebble 2, vivosmart hr, and vivoactive hr, but none of them are really grabbing me, and none of them seem very close to matching the peak’s hr sampling rate.

    • Piro

      Fifthed. I wonder how many more replies you need to act on our request. :)

      I share the same opinion as the previous commenters. I love my Basis. For more than a year it has been my faithful and reliable companion. I’m reluctant to send it back.

      I also checked out vivoactive HR, vivosmart HR+ and fitbit Blaze. I even considered withings activité but I’ve grown so used to the notifications and the digital display with the background light that it is just not enough.

      From what I’ve gathered, Blaze is somewhat unreliable, pretty, but dumb, not made to last. Garmins are weak on design but very professional. Yet you have to play with buttons and the latter is not that good with the sleep tracking. Plus I don’t need a GPS, but I’d like to have a waterproof watch.

      We really need adequate suggestions and preferably before December!

      Thanks.

  20. Russ

    I’m actually really annoyed at Strava…I’ve been part of a large group requesting via their forum that they implement the ability to upload photos from the web interface. Elle, the Strava rep would respond every so often informing us other features more important are being implemented. Beacon is what is more important? A feature Strava users can get for free with Garmin, but now have to pay for with Strava? I love Strava, I really do, but this pisses me off!

  21. Forrest

    It’s pretty shitty that Strava touts this as a safety feature, but then buries it behind their premium, pay service. Isn’t this basically a rehash of the live tracking feature?

  22. Eli

    I thought this was the more important strava announcement this week
    link to labs.strava.com

    Competition for strava developers

  23. Chris

    When your contact is watching your ride do they have to keep refreshing the screen to see your movements or is there a setting which they can receive ‘live, continual feed’?

  24. giorgitd

    Well, I was so ready to buy a Basis – and then Intel purchased them. So I held off and waited to see if Intel could reverse their historical inability to advance devices in the consumer electronics marketplace. Glad I waited. The Basis Peak seemed really well positioned to lead a portion of the future of wearables. Really too bad, overall. I wonder if Intel will turn over the IP for a song once the recall is resolved. Perhaps someone can get the Basis tech back into the hands of consumers and figure out how to innovate the next gen version. I’d like to see that and might support it, despite my recent purchase of a 920XT…

    • tomrob_180

      Man, you don’t rush into anything do you! Intel bought basis over two years ago which is – for most people – the lifetime of a fitness tracker!

  25. Cathy

    The Strava beacon feature seems very useful but I hope they will have an option for emailing instead of a text. My Dad would love to be able to track my runs but he doesn’t have a smart phone. However he is more than capable of using email. I already have to call him when I’ve leaving (and coming home) so he’d love to also have an ability to look to see where I am if I haven’t called when I said I would. He has understandably become much more concerned about me being out by myself after his brother died while out cycling alone a month ago.

  26. Drew Ellison

    I have a Garmin 520 and I gave up on Garmin Connect live tracking feature, as I found it unreliable (would randomly stop tracking or lose signal. It might by my phone, an old iPhone 4S). And I know that tracking through the Strava app eats my battery quite quickly.

    For live tracking, I use the RoadID app (free) for allowing my wife to track me. It’s easy to use, more reliable than the Garmin Connect app. It can alert with both texts and emails.

  27. Doug weaver

    Basis best waterproof/ all around replacement for the peak!?! I wore mine religiously until I sadly sent it off this past week- Ray I’d appreciate your view and readers experiences of a replacement

  28. KataiKit

    “… but also the 7 people still left using the Basis B1 watch (the original watch).”

    Well as one of the “seven” people still with their B1, I am very sad. I really enjoyed this watch. I loved the data I got from it, and I am sad to see the company go. They had always had awesome customer service on the few occasions I needed it. It’s been my constant companion (so to speak) since late 2013.

  29. Call Me Mom

    Well phooey,
    As one of these 7 remaining B1 users, I have sent it in for a refund. I bought it for the sleep tracker and I am not seeing anything else out there that is half as good. Are there any really good, easily wearable sleep trackers out there now?