Last week, fitness trainer Todd Durkin travelled from San Diego to give a few select Canadians a dose of exercise.
Durkin is known for being a coach on the NBC reality show called Strong an was brought to Toronto by Under Armour and HTC to help promote the new UA HealthBox, which offers a connected fitness experience that includes the UA fitness band, UA scale, UA heart rate strap, and the associated UA record app (available on iOS and Android).
About twenty of us were participating in a 45-minute workout put together by Durkin. As someone who’s been part of various sports, specifically trained for duathlons and triathlons, this workout was inspiring and tough. Durkin was passionate and committed to his craft, but the fitness band kept me engaged.
I’ve been wearing various bands before, such as the Apple Watch and a iterations of Fitbit’s products, so I was interested to see why Under Armour and HTC were joining forces to take on the crowded, growing fitness market. I sat down with Jason LaRose, SVP of digital revenue at Under Armour, and Wolfgang Muller, executive director for connected products at HTC.
Q: HTC and Under Armour is an interesting partnership. How did this agreement come about?
Jason LaRose: I think the easiest thing is that at Under Armour we partner with the best and we try to find the best companies no matter what. You can see throughout our history with innovations and products that we saw a need within the market to build a system so that it was easy for people out of the box. We are not a hardware company, so we needed to find somebody who is great at hardware.
Q: Why choose HTC for the partnership?
Jason LaRose: Let’s start with design. Look at the design of the product. These guys are known for doing an incredible job at industrial design and the tiny little details. They obviously know a great deal about the market overall. They have built great handsets for a long time and with great brands like Google.
We are in a market where we are talking about athletes on the go, so a company who is great in mobile, great in hardware and also great in the tiny details. At Under Armour we like to say that “everything has been considered.” Whether we did it or we didn’t. It’s been considered. We considered it. So, to find a partner who considers all those little tiny details is super important for us.
Q: Why choose Under Armour?
Wolfgang Muller: From an HTC perspective, as we looked at the market, and at the time a couple years back, there was a commoditized market. Everyone started to talk about wearables – we like connected fitness products – at CES Samsung, LG, everyone was pitching a fitness tracker and we took a hard look at that as ‘how do we expand our business?’ in that category. It made sense to us. As more and more things became connected and into the mobile device, we knew we were not going to do it alone.
At HTC, very similar to Under Armour, we partner with the best brands out there. Microsoft with the first Windows Mobile device. Google with the first Android device. So if we’re going to enter in this market we are going to do it right and we looked for the best partners out there who have the best set of athletes, who have the best knowledge of what the sport is doing and what the athlete needs, and with the fastest growing brand in sports apparel. It was a no-brainer. It was a synergy of the two companies and we couldn’t be happier.
Q: Why focus on health? You are an apparel company. Did you feel that entering this space would truly make the athlete better, or did you just need to do something different?
Jason LaRose: There is certainly no slowdown in the overall business. At the end of the day our mission has always been to make all athletes better. Started with a shirt, then footwear, got to women’s, youth… this is another way to make athletes better.
I don’t think we think about this as a brand new world for us, but as an extension as the mission that has been in place for the last 20 years. This is a continuation for us. Because information is a big part of how we are making athletes better in today’s world, which is different than in 1996, then we are in that market.
Q: Tell me about the products
Jason LaRose: They all work together with UA Record. That is really the centrepiece. We give you a quick dashboard – you start your day with sleep, then move to nutrition, then activity and fitness. This gives you the ability to measure them all. You have an activity tracker that is measuring sleep, resting heart rate and steps. The activity band cannot give you active heart rate to the accuracy you may want as an athlete.
That’s why we give you a heart rate strap for active heart rate and we believe this is the best way to capture that information. Then to tie that fuel together, that is where you have this beautiful scale that gives you an opportunity to measure your weight and body fat. You look at this thing and it’s almost a work of art. People love having this in their home. It looks beautiful on purpose.
Q: How do you see people benefiting from this experience and these tools?
Wolfgang Muller: I can speak from experience. I wear the band 24/7. We have done a good job at optimizing the battery. We have about a five-day battery life, which is fantastic. Charging happens within 20 to 30 minutes.
We believe that this is the best sleep tracking product in the market today. It tracks your light and heavy sleep. It tracks everything from walking, biking, running, sleep, nutrition and puts it into UA Record. It is the hub for all your activity. It goes up via WiFi and puts it into your dashboard to monitor your goals.
Q: For the scale, is the idea to step on it every day?
Jason LaRose: It’s up to you. It’s how you want to accomplish and track your goals.
Q: How do you wash the heart rate strap?
Jason LaRose: The puck comes right off and you put it into the washer. The battery life of the heart rate strap is a 7-month battery life.
Wolfgang Muller: The fitness band is water resistant so you can shower with it. I want to be clear though. It’s not waterproof, so I don’t recommend going swimming with it… that would be bad.
Q: What if you’re a swimmer?
Wolfgang Muller: If you’re a swimmer you have to take it off. This one from a swimming perspective, you can’t jump in the pool and do it.
Jason LaRose: That’s a good question. Could we have made it waterproof? We could have made it waterproof, but it would have some other compromises in the design. So we’ve chosen to take it off when you swim.
Q: Is there a waterproof fitness band coming?
Wolfgang Muller: Under Armour and HTC, we are not stopping. This is the first of many products.
Q: Thoughts on the Healthbox in the Canadian market
Jason LaRose: To me the biggest thing is that you have a big sporting market here in Canada. You have really active people. With really active people you have a product that is really made for them.
That is the biggest thing. I could use this for gym workouts. I could use this for cycling and running, golf and walking. To have something that is geared towards all weather, with UA record logging everything.