Trialing Philips’s DirectLife health program

Posted by: Michael Arndt on October 13, 2009

By Venessa Wong of BusinessWeek’s Innovation and Design staff

In a recent meeting with Erik de Heus, CEO of New Wellness Solutions at Philips Electronics (PHG), the multinational health-care, consumer electronics, and lighting company headquartered in Amsterdam, we discussed a device I would try out—the new DirectLife health monitor. It is a white 1.2-inch square that detects acceleration to measure how far and fast you move and how many calories you burn—based on an online profile you set up with your height, weight, age, and gender using proprietary algorithms. Like an iPod, the device plugs into your computer and automatically updates your profile with data on the day’s activity using DirectLife software you download from the Internet.

Sounds familiar? In June 2006, Nike (NKE) launched at retail Nike+, a kit that tracks activity and links users with an online community of runners. It also features Nike+ Coach: pre-set and customizable fitness programs. (Here’s BW’s story on Nike+.) Last year, San Francisco-based FitBit debuted a fitness tracker and just started shipping the product a few weeks ago.

Philips’ program includes online, human coaches who review profile information and give feedback and motivation via email to help users meet their health goals. Coaches set daily targets, which change based on adjustable goals, and the device gradually lights up as you get closer to meeting them. I had the unusual opportunity to meeting my coach, Jen Dowdeswell, for an interview when she was visiting New York from Amsterdam. Most users will not have face to face meetings with their coaches.

This fitness tool is part of Philips' expansion into health care. The DirectLife service is based on a subscription model: $99 for the device and the first four months of coaching, and $12.50 each month thereafter for consumers ($10 for corporate clients).

The other difference, says de Heus, is that DirectLife is designed for people who are not already athletes but want to become more active. It will also be marketed in the B2B space to companies looking for alternatives to traditional fitness-related employee benefits, such as gym memberships. Philips has already tested it with a total of 25,000 people, including employees of 30 major companies.

Users can wear the DirectLife monitor four ways: in a pocket, on a belt, on a necklace, or (for women) in a bra. It tracks acceleration in three directions, so it will underestimate calories burned during stationary exercises such as pilates.

I have been wearing my DirectLife monitor for four days now, so I am half way through my eight-day assessment period, which sets a baseline for how active I was when starting the program. I will not be able to see my activity or have a fitness plan until the assessment period is complete.

Brief observations: The monitor weighs almost nothing so I barely notice it is on. It is low-maintenance but I’ve had to adjust my online profile almost every day, since my fickle wardrobe doesn’t allow me to wear it in pocket, belt, necklace or bra consistently—and the wrong setting leads to inaccurate readings.

My goals are to feel more energized, to increase fitness, and, hopefully, fit into my old jeans a little easier. The challenge begins here. Stay tuned for updates.

Reader Comments

Jimmy Smithfield

October 14, 2009 8:02 AM

Have you heard of bodybugg or GoWear fit?
Check out the two systems at www.bodybugg.com or www.gowearfit.com. They both seem to have a well refined offering for consumers. You also get results right away rather then waiting for an 8 day assessment. The monthly fee looks cheaper as well. You should try these systems out and do a follow up on what works best for you.

Calvin Lee

October 14, 2009 8:43 AM

Let me know how this goes. Does this device function as an accelerometer or strain guage measure and then translate it into calories or watts?

Tom Perkins

October 14, 2009 10:09 AM

I'm one of the 25,000 test subjects, and continue to use the device after 5 months of use. The best thing about it is that you can get real-time updates on your progress using the LED meter on the DirectLife monitor. I travel a lot, and sometimes it's hard to be motivated at the end of the day to exercise. I find that being able to see that I haven't achieved my daily goal encourages me to exercising. The on-line tracking of my activity down to the minute is also excellent.

Venessa Wong (writer)

October 16, 2009 4:10 PM

Hi Calvin, The device is an accelerometer. So, it won't capture much movement if you are on a bike, for example. A Philips spokesman said that since the only things moving are your legs while biking, you can put the unit in your sock or tie it to your laces, then set your profile on Pocket.

Megan Shank

October 27, 2009 4:59 PM

So how's your progress, Venessa?

Butch Crain

January 5, 2010 1:51 PM

I'm afraid this may be a ripoff.

Plugged the monitor to my computer this morning to get some feedback - nothing.

Emailed Philips twice today - no response. So much for personal coaching.

Marc Weiss

January 11, 2010 2:15 PM

This product seems to have very poor customer service. My wife tried to buy one as a gift for me in December. They sent her an email asking her to register, but she didn't because it was supposed to be for me. Then they sent the device anyway.

When we returned from vacation last week to find the device waiting for us, I tried to register. Didn't work. I emailed support. Took two days before I heard back. Each time I write them (email is the only way -- no phone number), it takes a day or two to hear back.

Now they tell me since my wife didn't register within 7 days, I have to purchase it again.

If this is the customer service when I'm trying to get started, what will it be after I've signed on? I'm looking for an alternative and would be grateful for any suggestions.

Randy C.

January 15, 2010 8:55 PM

I have been wearing my monitor for 2 weeks now. I have had several communications with my fitness coach and have been very happy with the support that I have received. It is well worth the money.

Oliver Buckley

January 25, 2010 6:35 AM

I too have been happy with the monitor and program - I'm on the beginning of my 4th week. In fact, after the assessment period, the monitor went dead. I communicated with Phillips support, who asked me to run some simple tests, and then sent me a new monitor that arrived in a few days. So customer service was great for me.

Michael Weston

February 6, 2010 4:03 PM

I've had several of the Philips monitors fail and received almost no support at all. I've repeatedly email my coach and received only canned responses. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. The units false positives are frustrating, the hardware failures are surprising and the lack of support is abysmal. Total waste of money and they refuse to refund a dime.

I'm going to try the FitBit, hopefully this will work better.

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