Friday, April 28, 2006

Bones in Motion BiM Active Mobile Service Comparison Review with Garmin Forerunner 205: Review Wrap-up

After testing Bones in Motion's BiM Active for a little more than a week and comparing it to my Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS personal training watch, I have put together a list of likes and dislikes as well as a wishlist for the future:


  • Simple and easy to use. This point is very important since BiM Active is targeting mainstream recreational exercisers and not hardcore, data-driven, gadget geek athletes like myself. Simplicity is best. This is why the iPod succeeds where others fail.
  • Fast GPS satellite acquisition times. At 10-15 seconds, it much quicker than my Garmin Forerunner 205
  • One-click wireless uploading of activity data to the BiM Active website. Again simple and easy with no cables and PCs to mess with.
  • Can currently pause and suspend mid activity to take a call, photo, etc and then resume from where you left off
  • Enhancements. New features and updates, such as the ability to record an activity and listen to music on the cell phone at the same time, can be added to both cell phones and the website in the future. Users are not necessarily locked in to old features and functionality
  • The BiM Active website also accepts data from other GPS devices
  • Pricing. This is my biggest concern regarding the viability of the service. Personally, I believe the network operators, content developers and service providers are charging way too much for mobile content and services, which in turn is keeping adoption rates low. It will all depend on customer usage models and being able to price accordingly to other services they use. I like the BiM Active service, but at $9.99 a month or roughly $120 for a year is it worth the price? I think if it was priced lower at around $5-6 a month then it would be an easier decision for consumers and more would try it out. A per activity pricing model might be nice too for those folks who only want to record activities on an occasional basis, such as while traveling, etc.
  • Coverage. If you are in a Sprint no coverage area then you're out of luck
  • Must flip open handset to start, pause, resume and stop recording. Not a major problem, except maybe for cyclists, but an inconvenience nonetheless.
  • I know Bones in Motion is working on this, but being able to use BiM Active at the same time as talking on the phone or using the cell phone as music player will be a huge plus
  • Export data. Allow BiM Active data to be used in other apps, such as SportTracks or Google Earth
  • More customization. Allow users to customize what info can be seen on the screens and configure external buttons to pause, stop, resume or take manual splits.
  • Auto pause. If the user comes to a halt, such as a light or stop sign, BiM Active will pause recording until user is in motion again
  • More enabled cell phones and carriers beyond Sprint Nextel. This pertains to both potential users and Bones in Motion. A wider audience hopefully means greater adoption
So what does this all mean. It all comes down to usage model. If you are a recreational athlete, especially female, who:
  • likes to run, bike, walk and/or hike (duh!)
  • wants to carry a cell phone while exercising for safety/security purposes
  • wants something easy to use and doesn't want or need all the functions and data of a more complex (and expensive) device
  • would rather pay a monthly fee for a mobile service than own a device with its upfront costs
  • doesn't obsess over knowing the exact distance of your activity and can live with distance monitoring that is somewhere between 1 to 3 percent off on the low-side (i.e. 5 miles instead of 5.1 miles)
then BiM Active just might be perfect for you. It's easy to use, the service is convenient via both the cell phone and website, and reliability and accuracy is pretty good. The monthly pricing is a bit high and you need to make sure there is Sprint coverage in the areas you intend to use it.

As I noted in my intro, I'm not the target audience. I still prefer my dedicated device, the Garmin Forerunner 205, because of its greater accuracy, customization, and tons of bells and whistles. It's expensive and complex, but I like lots o' data for feedback during the run as well as for post-run analysis. With all that said, I could still envision using the BiM Active mobile service on an ad hoc basis (i.e. forgot watch and want to get in impromptu activity) if there was a per activity pricing model and the export data feature was available.

Overall BiM Active is a good option for the mainstream recreational athlete. If you fit the target audience criteria, don't mind spending $9.99 a month (plus a Sprint data plan) and want a bit more features than a standard stopwatch, but don't want to spend $$ on a dedicated and more complex GPS device, then it is probably worthwhile checking out. The service was pretty solid other than a couple of slight mishaps due to using a pre-production release on my Samsung A920 Multimedia cell phone.

More importantly, since the service is only a couple of months old, hopefully Bones in Motion will continue to add new cell phones and enhancements to BiM Active as they go along, such as using the service as well as the phone or music player at the same time. I'll be very interested in seeing how this mobile service fares as there seems to be a lot of potential for doing some cool and innovative stuff.

Since I'm not the target audience, I will supplement this review by asking some female runners in my area to test out the BiM Active service. Stay on the lookout for this in the weeks to come.

On a closing note, I would like to give Garmin a heads up that they better watch out. Although BiM Active targets a different audience than Garmin's higher-end dedicated devices, they still better be careful. BiM Active is going after the mainstream mobile market, which is much, much bigger than Garmin's potential market. I mean global cell phone market leader Nokia sold 75 million cell phones worldwide in the first quarter of 2006 alone. To put the cell phone market into even better perspective, the total number of iPods sold in the 5 years since it was introduced is roughly 50+ million.

I've wondered in the past why Garmin doesn't jump into this market and partner with carriers and cell phone manufacturers to provide a mobile personal activity monitoring service similar to BiM Active. It's not like they don't have the expertise in house as they already offer the Garmin Mobile GPS navigation service in conjunction with Sprint Nextel. They also acquired MotionBased last fall so they have the website aspect covered as well. Are they afraid a mobile + website service will cannibalize sales of their dedicated devices?

This is a potentially huge market that dwarfs the current market for dedicated personal activity monitoring devices and might offer up a lot of recurring revenue goodness to boot. Of course the key word here is potential. In my opinion, Garmin should stop waiting and start acting on a competing service. Better yet, they might consider acquiring Bones in Motion and put even more mileage between them and the competition....

Here are links to the rest of the review:

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