Amazon’s Halo subsidiary had lofty, long-term intentions to compete in fitness and wellness before a wave of layoffs shut it down. The Verge learned from current and former Amazon workers that Halo was supposed to have a sophisticated, AI-based fitness training program, celebrity-led exercise courses, and more.

Amazon’s Halo brand launched mass-market health and wellness devices less than three years ago to compete with Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin, and others. The Halo Band, Halo View, and Halo Rise are all distraction-free. After poor sales, Amazon abruptly exited the Halo business last week, stopped selling all three devices, and announced that existing units would stop working this summer.

Customers found the news abrupt. Planet Fitness and Amazon gave eligible gym members free Halo View fitness trackers through March. Employees were surprised too—they were working on Halo’s biggest expansion. Amazon planned to relaunch Halo Digital this year. An advanced, AI-powered fitness trainer and celebrity-led workout classes were planned. The future version would also support the Apple Watch.

No way. Amazon cited “significant headwinds, including an increasingly crowded segment and an uncertain economic environment” in a Verge-viewed internal email.

Amazon seemed determined to continue despite poor hardware sales until lately. The idea relied on a revised Halo mobile app with enhanced personalisation and training options. The Verge has Halo software update mock-ups.

Halo Digital

Bloomberg reports that Apple is creating an AI-based health coaching service to inspire customers to meet diet, exercise, and sleep goals. Quartz, a premium service, may launch in 2024.

Amazon had a comparable Halo idea before things went wrong. The project, codenamed Donna, was to incorporate a “Halo AI Trainer” that used computer vision to evaluate and track users’ exercises.

Halo Fitness classes, like Apple and others, could display real-time metrics like heart rate and intensity zones, but they couldn’t evaluate movement or ensure proper technique. Computer vision—and your phone’s camera—would help. “Trainers will lead these workouts, but unlike traditional Halo Fitness workouts, check-ins are computer vision enabled and add form tracking, rep counting, and detailed performance metrics in the post-workout summary,” an internal Amazon paper states.

Early beta feedback concerning the AI trainer’s effectiveness was not encouraging, and even Amazon’s staff were wary of having a camera analyze them and share data with Amazon during workouts.

Amazon’s fall 2023 display was supposed to offer Halo Digital for $7.99 per month. Amazon added milestones, achievements, and badges to Halo to add additional gamification after recognizing that Apple and Samsung’s prizes and accolades were more appealing than Halo’s points-based activity tracking.

Amazon’s internal Halo Digital documentation states, “To drive plan adherence and habit formation, customers will receive badges and awards for streaks/achievements/milestones, be able to easily schedule workouts with reminders, make day-of workout modifications based on duration, preference (e.g., cardio instead of strength), or their current energy levels.

The records also show that the company wanted to offer users more premium and Peloton-like interactive workout classes. Halo planned to provide “20 pieces of new content each week” in 2023. Amazon’s Seattle Halo studio recorded celebrity workout classes. Amazon hired John Stamos and Eva Longoria to record Halo Digital bedtime stories to compete with Calm. It was mostly finished but scrapped.

The team recognized opportunities for Halo Digital in the health insurance market and as a wellness benefit for employees. “We are exploring Halo as an employee benefit for Amazon, we will engage employers to deliver Donna as a ‘perk’ they can offer employees,” the report states.

“As we build evidence of Donna’s impact, we will begin collaboration discussions with health plans and self-insured employers to offer Donna as a covered benefit going into 2024 plan years.”

Intriguingly, Amazon also wanted to expand Halo’s appeal by adding Apple Watch and HealthKit support, which would have allowed Apple Watch owners to participate in subscription-based training, fill their rings, and meet Apple activity goals.

Unsold Halo devices abound.

Despite fierce competition, the Halo Band and Halo View had hardware faults that prompted user complaints. The Band’s sensor array plastic could delaminate. The Halo View also cracked at the tracker-band junction or easily detached from its band.

According to our sources, Amazon secretly fixed the View’s design fault. The firm occasionally ceased marketing Halo to fix issues, which slowed momentum as new competitors appeared.

The Halo Band and View averaged slightly under four stars on Amazon, while Fire TV and Echo speakers average 4.5 stars. Amazon kept promoting its Halo range despite mixed reviews. Alexa users who queried “what’s a good yoga mat?” were categorized and targeted with Halo advertisements. The corporation admits doing this, but customers may not know.

One source stated Amazon obtained “incredible” Halo consumer data. We developed cohorts based on product usage without looking at individual user data. We monitored Amazon competitor sales to make product decisions.”

No data could change things. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has aggressively slashed back on non-profitable projects. Halo couldn’t survive Amazon’s downsizing and layoffs when even Alexa and Echo are suffering.

The corporation has a huge Halo inventory. Amazon owns approximately 500,000 Halo View and Rise devices, according to sources. That could explain gym promotions.

The Verge gave Amazon many of its main points before publishing this story so the firm may reply or contradict anything false. “We have nothing to share beyond our statement and blog post,” spokesman Kristy Schmidt responded via email.

My colleague Victoria Song explained why Halo failed: Amazon was late to the party, and its few noteworthy software capabilities, such as speech tone analysis and 3D body modeling, were more odd than useful.

Halo’s body fat calculator was scientific and had supporters, yet it caused body dysmorphia worries. The Halo Band’s unique “tone” voice analysis drained its battery. It’s also true that some consumers are wary of storing their health data with Amazon.

Halo was a small fish in a huge pond, and Amazon had little hope of breaking through, as the internal email showed. The corporation apparently realized that even Halo Digital couldn’t beat such entrenched competition.

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