For any sport, the advantages of having a personal coach are many — unfortunately, these coaches tend to come with a rather steep price tag. For a fraction of the price, a smart sensor acts as a kind of digital coach, giving anyone the ability to learn the basics. Recognizing this as the trend that it is, racquet sports company Head recently released its own take on a tennis tracker dubbed the Head Tennis Sensor — and it recruited sports sensor company Zepp to help get it off the ground.
Similar in function to Zepp’s own line of tennis trackers, Head’s device looks to bring impactful training to players of any skill level — Players who also own a specially designed Head tennis racquet, of course. Compatible with roughly 36 of Head’s racquets, the Head Tennis Sensor either comes already integrated with the racquet or as a separate attachment. Thankfully, neither option adds more than a quarter of an ounce of weight to the racquet.
Hardware aside, the sensor offers users four different modes of use: Play, Train, Compete, and 3D Serve. When in Play mode, the sensors track every shot while logging ball speed, spin, and the user’s accuracy of hitting a ball’s sweet spot. Train mode offers players a range of exercises curated by Head’s in-house tennis coaches while the Compete option allows players to challenge up to three other people to a singles or doubles match. Finally, 3D Serve provides interactive feedback on serve speed and form.
Zepp’s collaborative efforts come into play on the tracker’s companion application (available via the Apple App Store and Google Play). Similarly named the Head Tennis Sensor app, it tracks and syncs all logged information, giving users the ability to chart their performance and examine every aspect of their tennis game via what Head calls an “intuitive user interface.” With a price tag of just $100, the Head Tennis Sensor (and companion app) seem like a genuine steal for anyone looking to improve their tennis game — amateur, professional, or otherwise.
Despite its practicality, the device does raise some eyebrows — specifically regarding Head’s partnership with Zepp. On the outside, Zepp’s position within the sports-tracker industry appears solid. After all, a simple trip to its website produces images of Los Angeles Angels superstar outfielder Mike Trout, former Association of Tennis Professionals world No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic, and LPGA golfer Michelle Wie — who once was the youngest player to qualify for a United States Golf Association amateur championship, accomplishing the feat at just 10 years old. But dig a little deeper and Zepp’s reputation starts to get a bit murky.
In March 2015, the motion capture and sports-tracking company Blast Motion filed a lawsuit alleging that the sensors developed by Zepp Labs infringed on four Blast Motion patents — the lawsuit also called for the sales of any infringing tech to halt. After nearly three years, a U.S. District Court in Southern California granted the injunction, forcing Zepp to stop sales of its baseball and softball sensors in the U.S. It also entered judgments of infringement on Zepp’s golf and tennis products, though a stipulated settlement allowed Zepp to continue sales of these sensors in the U.S.
Even outside of its legal troubles, Zepp’s products haven’t always lived up to the hype. During our own tests at a recent TechPop event thrown in New York City in July 2017, the simple act of setting up and syncing Zepp’s baseball and soccer sensors proved troublesome. They worked for only a few minutes at a time before communication with the app stopped altogether. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as its golf sensors connected and functioned as advertised.
A relatively new consumer industry, sports trackers as a whole are still a work in progress. As more sensors like Head’s hit the market — and as companies like Zepp are forced to develop original ideas — it will continue to breed a more competitive and innovative playing field.