Wearables started out as ugly, clunky things that were made for fitness freaks and manly men with a fondness for huge watches. Now, the tech community is opening up to the idea that wearable tech can look attractive and suit both men and women. A slew of smart jewelry makers have popped up, but one startup in particular has come to stand out from the crowd: Bellabeat.
Updated on 06-04-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added news that the first batch of 10,000 Leaf wearables sold out in 48 hours, and around 15,000 in total have sold since.
“The idea is to offer meaningful insight into your health and not just broad data.”
Bellabeat started as a company that designed a spherical wooden device for pregnant women that could record and share a baby’s heartbeat from inside the womb. From there, Bellabeat’s co-founder Urška Sršen and her team started thinking about creating other devices that would help improve women’s health during all stages of their lives.
The company’s answer is the Leaf, a small piece of jewelry that tracks all the basic fitness metrics and sleep quality, while also keeping tabs on stress levels, women’s reproductive cycles, and potentially more.
Although Bellabeat showed off the Leaf at CES in January, early buyers are now finally getting their wellness tracker. The original Leaf is a small, leaf-shaped piece of pale wood with a stainless steel metal design on top, which allows it to be worn as a clip on your lapel, a bracelet on your wrist, or a pendant in a necklace.
It’s been so popular, that the first batch of 10,000 Leaf wearables sold out in 48 hours, and more than 15,000 in total were sold afterwards. The second batch was 68-percent sold at the time of writing on June 4.
To celebrate its release, Bellabeat also made a premium, special edition Leaf made out of 7,000-year-old bogwood, which only grows in select marshlands in Bosnia and Croatia, and features a gold-plated design.
However lovely and discrete the Leaf may be, it’s also a high-tech piece of jewelry — especially when paired with its companion app. Sršen and Bellabeat’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tanja Premru (a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics), spoke with Digital Trends about the health benefits of the Leaf and the medical science behind the device and the app.
A focus on women’s health and wellness
It’s no secret the world of quantified health hasn’t exactly been focused on women. Often, it seems the entire mainstream tech industry has downright ignored the other sex. Case in point: Apple’s HealthKit tracks obscure metrics like copper intake and selenium that the majority of people don’t even care about, but for some reason, it doesn’t track reproductive cycles or periods.
Bellabeat filled this gap in the market with the Shell, its first device, which allows pregnant women to record, hear, and send their unborn baby’s heartbeat to friends and relatives, while also acting as a baby monitor, music player, and home monitoring device once the baby is born.
“Our goal is to train you how to utilize the data you’re getting through the app instead of just ‘I did my steps, what now?’”
“Shell was our first device,” Sršen told Digital Trends. “We wanted to expand beyond pre-natal care, and create a system to help women track their wellness through different stages of their lives.”
Enter the Leaf, a smart piece of jewelry that tracks stress, activity, sleep, and reproductive health through a combination of smart algorithms that interpret data from the accelerometer, the app itself, and medical research.
“The idea is to offer meaningful insight into your health and not just broad data,” Sršen continued. “It’s a holistic approach to self-tracking — I think it’s just as important to track your physical progress and health as it is your mental health.”
To make sure the Leaf lives up to its promise, Bellabeat enlisted Dr. Premru to provide medical advice and explain what key wellness factors should be tracked. Although step count and sleep patterns are obviously important, both Premru and Sršen say they aren’t enough. The team worked to add algorithms to determine stress levels based on the motion of your chest while breathing and disruptions in your sleep patterns.
When your breathing suddenly speeds up for no apparent reason, the Leaf will know that you are stressed. The average adult breathes about 12-20 breaths per minute while at rest, so if your breathing accelerates out of the blue, the Leaf can surmise that you are stressed, Premru explained.
“When people are stressed, breathing is quicker and shallower, and they sleep more restlessly,” Premru said. “The frequency of your breaths should be higher if you’re stressed, because you need more oxygen in that moment.”
When the Leaf sees that you’re stressing out, it can vibrate to let you know to calm down. Sršen told us that there will be content in app to let you know how to reduce stress levels with breathing exercises and tips on how to be more relaxed. The app will also help you identify patterns, so you can see that you always get stressed while commuting to work, say. That way, you can identify things that stress you out and attempt to avoid them, or simply conquer the stress they provoke through the recommended exercises.
“A healthy lifestyle is not just based on fitness.”
“Our goal is to train you how to utilize the data you’re getting through the app instead of just ‘I did my steps, what now?'” Sršen said.”We’re trying to help you understand different aspects of your health, not just trying to get you to jog every day. We’re not just for a 23-year-old in yoga pants — We’re for everyone who wants to know a bit more about their health.”
Although the Leaf can’t track women’s reproductive cycles mechanically, users can use the app to keep tabs on their cycles. Much like Clue and other period tracking apps, the Leaf companion app will let you know when your period’s coming up or the best time to try to get pregnant.
“So far wearables are kind of overlooking women as customers,” Sršen said. “The design, we can forgive them, but in terms of software, none of them paid attention to reproductive health, which is key to women’s overall health.”
As a doctor with a focus on women’s health, Premru contributed her expertise on the subject of reproductive tracking to ensure the app is accurate and useful to all women, regardless of whether they want to get pregnant or not.
“A healthy lifestyle is not just based on fitness,” Premru said. “Leaf could be a way to motivate women to be more active, healthier and more aware of their stress levels. It’s important for pregnant women to be healthy, too, because their health affects the baby, too.”
In the future, Bellabeat may add more features to the app like nutrition tracking, water intake, and so on, Sršen said. You can also set reminders in the app, and use the smart alarm to wake up at the best time in your sleep cycle. The app is currently iOS only, but it will soon reach Android.
Versatility and appearance are central to the Leaf
Most wearables for women are either shiny, covered in dazzling jewels, or painted in a shocking pink. Although it’s impossible to design a wearable that matches every person’s style, it is important to focus on design, Sršen said.
“One size fits all doesn’t work with wearables,” she said. ” We wanted to make something specifically for women, and we’re not just trying to make it pink or shiny.”
“We wanted to make something for women, and we’re not just trying to make it pink or shiny.”
Although the Leaf certainly isn’t dainty, it is a quirky and pretty piece of jewelry. However, the best part about the device’s design is that it’s versatile. You can wear the Leaf as a bracelet on the leather strap that comes in the box, on the included chain around your neck, or as a clip on pin that slips onto any part of your clothing. If you don’t want it to be visible, you can clip it to your underwear, a pocket, or a waistband.
Of course, most of the time you’ll want to show it off, and in that case, Bellabeat will offer several accessories to spruce up your style. You can also just put it on jewelry that you already own, as it doesn’t require any specific clasp. Bellabeat could potentially offer different versions of the Leaf design with various woods and metals, but for now you have two choices: the standard light wood and steel design, or the dark bogwood with the gold-plated design, which is limited edition.
The original costs $119 and the special edition costs $250, which is somewhat steep for a fitness tracker, but Bellabeat is positioning it as more than a Fitbit in terms of both style and functionality. It’s a piece of jewelry, and a piece of tech. The Leaf also happens to cost less than Ringly, another piece of smart jewelry, which offers much less functionality for $195 and up.
“Wearables only become meaningful when they’re easy to use and people actually want to use them,” she said. “We don’t want you to always be aware of it, you should just be able to wear it an forget about it.”
To make the Leaf even more appealing to women who want a no-fuss wearable experience, Bellabeat popped in a replaceable coin cell battery that lasts 6 months before it needs changing. That, in itself, is a step up from most wearables, especially those with power hungry screens.
Sršen’s vision of the perfect wearable may sound simple, but it’s something that she believes will resonate with a lot of women.
“I’ve been wearing it for a couple of months now,” Sršen said. “I’m still wearing the first one we ever made. It’s helped me understand more about my everyday routine, it encourages me to get more rest and focus on myself, and it helps me get my meals on time and get to bed on time. All of these things are important to women who want to lead healthy lives.”
Related: 10 best apps to improve your health
The Bellabeat Leaf officially launches today for $119, though the app is still forthcoming. We’ll be testing the Leaf in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for a full review.