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Why ‘Fitness Tech’ Is Working Out—Data Sheet

August 2, 2019, 1:02 PM UTC

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I have leisure and athletic activity on my brain, so Thursday morning I popped into the San Francisco headquarters of Strava, the fitness app devoted to cycling, running, and lots of other trackable activities.

I am an on-again/off-again (currently on-again), non-paying Strava user. As a nowhere-close-to-elite athlete, I really like the features that track and record rides and runs. I sort of like the sharing aspect. I’m not ready to pay the $8 a month or $60 a year for Strava’s analytical and other tools–and I’m probably not unique in that decision. James Quarles, the company’s CEO, says there are 44 million Strava members (growing by a million a month), 82% of whom are outside the United States. The private company, which has raised a total of $70 million in its decade of existence, doesn’t disclose how many pay.

The company feels vibrant. Quarles walked me through Strava’s impressive locker room and bike-parking facility. I almost felt sorry for the employees who don’t ride to work. The company has a wonderful tagline. “We want to be the home of your active life,” says Quarles. It also sees itself as the Switzerland of athletic apps, playing nicely with Garmin, FitBit, Nike, Apple, and scores of apps that focus as intently on other sports as Strava does on cycling and running.

It’s an important moment in “fitness tech.” Apple pivoted its watch toward health applications with huge success. FitBit—I’m a well-documented FitBit fanatic: Ask me about my sleep and resting heart rate next time your see me—is struggling. (FitBit was the steady hero of my 2015 feature on Jawbone, but four-plus years is an eternity in the hardware business.) And Garmin, the pride and joy of Olathe, Kansas’s technology industry, is killing it.


If a robot had written my essay yesterday, it undoubtedly would have gotten the name of Ian McEwen’s novel correct. It is Machines Like Me. The human who goofed regrets the error.

Speaking of robots, the machine in the novel, whose name just happens to be Adam, needs to recharge at the end of the each day. I need far more than that from time to time, so I’m taking most of the next two weeks to recharge. You’ll be in good hands with Aaron and a rotating ensemble of my other colleagues.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky



Racing downhill. Beyond those fitness tech companies Adam mentioned, Strava also plays nice with a lot of other hardware makers, like the pedaling cadence trackers made by Wahoo. That prompted me recently to switch to Strava for biking after many years with Boston local Runkeeper. How did I get my data out and over? That required a third app: RunGap.

Stuck in the muck. Following up on some recent eavesdropping surprises, Google and Apple moved to quiet the controversies. Apple is temporarily suspending its program where contractors analyzed recordings of people using Siri while it reviews the effort. Apple said it will also add an option to allow Siri users to opt out. Google–at the behest of German privacy regulators–suspended a similar program in Europe after hundreds of private conversations were leaked in Belgium.

King of the mountains. Perhaps hoping to gin up more controversy, retailing giant Walmart has filed a patent application to create a digital currency that would be backed by actual currencies like, say, the U.S. dollar. Sounds a lot like Facebook's Libra plan.

Sprinting to the finish. Sometimes it feels like the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program should have been called Waiting For GoJEDI, or something. Incoming Defense Sec. Mark Esper said Thursday he will review the competitive bidding situation, after President Trump echoed complaints from Amazon rivals that the program favors Amazon somehow. Meanwhile, still no cloud for the Pentagon.

Higher cadence. Food delivery service DoorDash agreed to buy Square’s rival service Caviar for $410 million. The deal, DoorDash’s first large acquisition, is the result of a longtime connection between Square CEO Jack Dorsey and DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, who previously worked for Dorsey in 2012.

Maillot jaune. The most popular player on Amazon’s gaming-focused livestreaming service Twitch announced Thursday that he would switch to rival Mixer, owned by Microsoft. "Ninja," whose real name is Tyler Blevins, may bring most of his 14 million followers along for the show. It's unknown how much Mixer is paying Ninja to switch.

Packing the peloton. The 14 attorneys general led by New York's Letitia James who are suing to block the T-Mobile-Sprint merger got another compatriot, as Texas AG Ken Paxton joined the effort. Also on Thursday, the magistrate overseeing pretrial moves in the lawsuit set a trial date for mid-December, two months later than previously planned. At the Federal Trade Commission, the investigation of Facebook is focusing on whether the company used acquisitions to snuff out would-be rivals.

Drafting. It was a sort of happier day on Wall Street for the tech sector. That is, after the president's promise to impose lots more tariffs on Chinese-made goods (cough, iPhones, cough) crushed the sector, some earnings reports revived a few players. Pinterest, which went public in April, said its second quarter revenue grew 62% to $261 million and raised its 2019 full year forecast to as much as $1.1 billion. The stock, already almost doubled since the IPO, jumped another 15% in premarket trading on Friday morning. Cybersecurity firm Fortinet said its revenue increased 18% to $522 million, better than analysts expected. Shares of Fortinet, previously up 12% this year, gained another 12% on Friday. It was less good news for Square, where adjusted revenue rose 46% to $563 million, but the company's forecast for the next quarter disappointed. Square's stock, up 44% in 2019, fell 8%.


A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:

Orange Sunset (Variety)
The end of Netflix’s most-watched original series marks the passing of one era for the streaming service and the beginning of another.

Fame and ‘Fortnite’ — inside the global gaming phenomenon (Financial Times)
It’s captivated a generation of teens. Now it’s making millionaires of its star players.

Now Even Funerals Are Livestreamed—and Families Are Grateful (Wired)
There were friends who couldn’t travel and family members who lived too far away to make it in time for the service, which, by Jewish tradition, had to happen as soon as possible. But their chapel had a solution: It livestreamed the funeral, and uploaded a recording of the service to its website shortly after, with a hyperlink prominently displayed in the obituary.

35 Over 35 (The American Scholar)
These writers got their start after age 35—there’s still hope for you.


Returning to yesterday's theme of the troublesome uses of artificial intelligence for facial recognition, what do you think about including kids in the growing databases of faces? New York Times reporters Joseph Goldstein and Ali Watkins have an investigation of the New York Police Department adding pictures of juvenile offenders to its facial recognition system. Among the problems: it doesn't work.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is part of the Commerce Department and evaluates facial recognition algorithms for accuracy, recently found the vast majority of more than 100 facial recognition algorithms had a higher rate of mistaken matches among children. The error rate was most pronounced in young children but was also seen in those aged 10 to 16.

Aging poses another problem: The appearance of children and adolescents can change drastically as bones stretch and shift, altering the underlying facial structure. “I would use extreme caution in using those algorithms,” said Karl Ricanek Jr., a computer science professor and co-founder of the Face Aging Group at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.


Exclusive: Lux Capital Raises More Than $1 Billion Across Two New Funds to Invest in Companies Building a Sci-Fi Future By Polina Marinova

Amazon to Sellers: Use Eco-Friendly Packaging or Pay a Fine By Alyssa Newcomb

Digital Health Firm Livongo’s Secret Sauce? Employees Who Are Actually Patients By Sy Mukherjee

‘Doctor Who’ Will Stream Exclusively on HBO Max By Isaac Feldberg

As Game Boy Turns 30, It’s Time to Recognize Its Inventor, Nintendo’s Maintenance Man By Lisa Marie Segarra

Universal Orlando Announces ‘Epic Universe’ Theme Park By Isaac Feldberg


Universal theme parks owner Comcast says it's going to build a new mega-park, its most expensive ever, in Orlando to be called Epic Universe. But no clues yet on the theme of the new park for Comcast, which most recently spent a couple of billion dollars adding Harry Potter-themed sections to its Universal Studios park. Any guesses? Minions in an all-yellow world? Turn the Incredible Hulk rollercoaster into an entire park for the big, green guy? We shall see.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.