Amazon’s health efforts took a new twist, as the e-commerce giant on Thursday announced an app-based health advice service for consumers—called Halo—that requires its own activity tracking band.
The service already has signed on some major partners in the health care market including leading data service Cerner and insurer John Hancock. Customers can apply for “early access” to the service starting immediately. Amazon didn’t say when the service would be more widely available.
While superficially similar to activity tracking bands from Fitbit, Huawei, and others, the Halo band collects more kinds of health data and is focused entirely on improving health at the expense of other functions. The band links with a smartphone app for data collection and analysis, but it doesn’t have a screen and doesn’t offer notifications, calls, or other phone app connections.
The Halo band captures a wide range of sensory data, including the wearer’s heart rate, skin temperature, movements, amount of sleep, and tone of voice. It comes in three sizes and three colors and costs $65 for early participants.
Data collected by the band gets turned into health advice via an A.I.-backed app on the user’s phone. Early users will get six months of the premium health advice service for free and then have to pay $4 per month. The band and app will offer rudimentary data collection if the user opts not to pay for continuing the service after six months, Amazon said.
“We are using Amazon’s deep expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer customers a new way to discover, adopt, and maintain personalized wellness habits,” Dr. Maulik Majmudar, principal medical officer for the new service, said in a statement.
The announcement comes just days after Fitbit announced its newest smartwatches and fitness bands. The new $100 Inspire 2 activity tracker is different from the Halo, however, with a small screen that provides phone notifications and app alerts.
John Hancock’s Vitality wellness program will give away Halo bands as part of its service and include three years of the Halo app service for free. A connection via Cerner will allow Halo users to send their health data to their doctor or other care providers. Halo users can also link the service to their account at WW, formerly Weight Watchers.
The Halo’s built-in microphone and other sensitive data collection methods on the device may raise questions about how much consumers will trust Amazon. The company said all data would be encrypted when sent and stored; users could delete all their data at any time; and speech samples would be analyzed on the user’s own phone and then automatically deleted. “Nobody, not even the customer, ever hears them,” Amazon said.
More basic wearables have been selling better than fancier smartwatches during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales of activity trackers rose 16% in the second quarter while sales of smartwatches declined 7%, according to IDC.