November 2, 2010

Review: Fisica ANT+ Sensor Key for the iPhone


The Fisica Sensor Key ANT+ receiver for the iPhone is a small wireless receiver that allows you to hook your iPhone up to ANT+ sensors giving you access to a number of fitness data feeds. These data feeds can include available heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, power meters, foot pod, and even some health related sensors like a scale and blood pressure devices. The possibilities are vast, not only for developing fitness Apps, but also for building some advanced health trackers. Today we'll concentrate on the lighter stuff like going for a bike ride using the iPhone as a monitor including a heart rate monitor.

Fisica Sensor Key and Line of Fitness Sensors

The Fisica Sensor Key was sent to me by their maker, Wahoo Fitness who also makes a line of fitness sensors that run the ANT+ wireless spectrum (Available At Wahoo Fitness). There are also several other makers that offer ANT+ sensors that will now work with your iPhone. Wahoo has a list of compatible ANT+ sensors at their website, and offers their own sensors if you don't have one already. They also publish an API, allowing App developers to use the sensor in a customized way inside their applications, giving readouts, capturing data, and offering visual and audio feedback during or after a workout. The ability to capture this information in a connected device has the power to significantly improve the capability of applications that utilize the sensor data feeds.

Wahoo Fitness has a good stable of Apps that use the Fisica Sensor Key capability already, with more on the way. I am trying it out with the MapMyRide application on my iPhone 4, and used the 3.7 version of the App - the Free version to start and then the "+" version that currently costs $4.99 on iTunes (It was provided to me by MapMyRide).


Connecting the Fisica Sensor Key

The Fisica Sensor Key plugs easily into the bottom of the iPhone, and about the size of a US Quarter coin. It takes no adjustments but does request that you install the Wahoo Fitness utility that allows the iPhone to connect to the Fisica Sensor Key. Running the utility takes less than a minute and the HRM monitor that I am using (Garmin HRM Strap) was recognized and connected to the iPhone. I didn't have to run this utility again after the first use.

Connecting to MapMyRide

MapMyRide is one of the Apps that already integrated the Fisica sensor into its application, giving users quick insight into new sensor data. To connect to the Fisica, I bring up the MapMyRide App, plug in the Fisica Sensor Key, go to "Settings" --> "ANT+ Settings", and the Sensor indicator is already there. The ANT+ wireless range is about 30 feet. Each sensor has a serial number so that the Fisica and iPhone are able to differentiate between other sensors in the area, whether they are yours of someone else's.

MapMyRide is part of the MapMyFitness group of applications that offer running, biking, hiking, walking, etc. that all rely on a similar engine offering capabilities that give mapping and data readouts during and after your workouts.

I used the App without a mount on my bike, opting instead to drop my iPhone in the back pocket of my bike jersey. There are several mounts available that I did not test, but I did find one that appears able to handle the Fisica Key that sticks out of the data slot in the phone. This mount is at Ram Mounts - Bike Mount for the iPhone 4, and a Bike Mount for the iPhone 3GS. Both under $20; seem to be a good value.

MapMyRide Performance

I used the MapMyRide App on a number of rides around home across the last four weeks. The rides varied in length from just over ten miles up to about forty miles. Early on, I started each ride with a full battery on the iPhone as I was afraid of the phone running out, but the iPhone 4's battery held up like a champ, giving me a four hour ride out of less than half of the battery.

Main Screens of the MapMyRide App - Map on the left and Data on the right.
Note the Paid "+" App is on the left and adds iPod integration features
along with an in-App ability to take pictures.   

The data readout is easy to see with critical information like distance, time and speed, along with the new heart rate sensor information on the display. MayMyRide counts off the key information that pertains to my ride; I like it. The map gives a smaller view of the data, but gives a nice view of where you are going, where you have been in a Google map that has full panning and zooming capabilities that you would expect in a multi-touch device. The big "START" and "STOP" buttons that appear at the bottom of the page allow you to easily mash the button to get the workout going or stop it, respectively.

Heart rate monitoring appears on both screens and is easily seen next to the heart icon. In talking with the MapMyFitness folks, they have let me know that deeper support of the Sensors is coming. The data screen (above right) will evolve so that you can select which sensors to see on the screen alongside other data feeds.

I compared the MapMyRide data to my Garmin for accuracy and they matched for all of my rides.

Uploading My Ride

At the end of the session, stopping the recording prompts you to save (or discard) the session, name it and upload it to the MapMyFitness online services, selecting Private or Public as a sharing setting. This can be done on a workout by workout basis, allowing you to share favorite routes online if you want. It's transparent and easy to decide.

Sharing - Facebook and Twitter

MapMyRide allows you to share the workout or Live Tracking with the world online through Facebook or Twitter. Sharing is easy and configuration is flexible. At a high level, you can elect to turn on the Live Sharing feature (See Screen Shot Right); remember to shut it off if you don't want your workout broadcasted! The simple changes are all found under "Settings".

Settings Tab with ANT+ Configuration and the Social Network sharing settings -
Turn on Live Tracking then configure which social network and what the
specific settings are under the Social Update Settings.

"Social Update Settings" - Once you turn on the Live Update capabilities, you can then edit the social network settings. First up is the Interval Type - select Distance or time. Then use a slider bar to select the interval; ranging between 1 mile and 10 miles, or 1 minute to 60 minute intervals.

Twitter?, or Facebook?, or Both? - You then separately decide what you want to share on each sharing site. You can elect to do "Live Sharing" to announce the start, the interval reports and a "Completed" report, or just a completed report which keys off of the act of hitting the stop and save buttons.

When configuring the Facebook and Twitter settings, you can actually set them separately, electing to post interval reports on one service and a completion only notice on another.

Linking Facebook and Twitter - these authorizations take different routes, but both are pretty easy. In order to link to Facebook and allow MapMyRide to post to your Wall, you need to sign into the MapMyRide application using Facebook Connect, and then link that to your MapMyRide account in the next screen. Go back into the settings area, and you'll find that the MapMyRide is authorized to post reports.

Twitter is a little less straightforward, which has you popping over to a Safari webpage to enter your Twitter handle and password, then redirecting back to the MapMyRide application to continue. Through Twitter's OAuth service, the MapMyRide App is enabled to send out your tweets.


Tweets are short and sweet - telling of progress or completion along with some basic stats; enough to let knowing followers to see what you are doing. Facebook posts can be a little more informative, including not only the basic stats, but a map thumbnail of your route which also links to your publicly shared "workout" on the MapMyFitness website.

I think both are cool, but hate the idea of spamming people with short interval wall-graffiti. So, I have a great solution in search for a problem I don't have every week. I do know that when I do longer rides or long bike-a-thons, friends and supporters want to know when we reach the finish line. Very cool capability, too bad I can't use it every day.

Voice Feedback

MMR_VoiceControl.pngI used the Voice Feedback on a couple of rides - configuring it to shout out to me every mile what some key stats were: Total Distance, Average Speed and Current Speed. The familiar slider choice configures the update intervals with a choice of timed updates or distance based updates. With the iPhone 4 on max volume I had no issue hearing the updates from the back pocket in my bike jersey; I just had to listen for it. You can currently elect to hear the following stats: Total Distance, Total Time, Average Pace, Current Pace, Average Speed, Current Speed.

I hope that we see incorporation of the new sensor based stats in a future update. I would like to hear heart rate, average heart rate and potentially even a cardio zone. I would also like to hear an alarm if I am going above a certain heart rate or into a certain cardio zone that I configure.

Free vs. Paid MapMyRide

For forking over $5, you will get an ad-free version of the App, along with the ability to take pictures from inside the MapMyRide App, and in App iPod controls.

Note that the ANT+ integration through the Fisica Sensor Key is available in the free version of the App. I like the Ad free experience, but for me the iPod integration isn't a big seller for me - I don't listen to music while riding. I would if I were running though, I would.

Heartrate Data

At this writing, you can watch your heart rate, and get average and max heart rate readings from the MapMyRide App and the online service. While exercising, the application shows the current heart rate in the bar above the map (See Map and Data Screens earlier in the story).

No specific details, but I am told by the MapMyFitness folks that better tools to display heart rate in relation to other factors is coming soon to their online service. My hope would be to see heart rate data alongside other information like elevation and speed with the backdrop of cardio zones, will better leverage the data feed. I have confirmed that the MapMyRide App is collecting heart rate data along with other sensor data in a time-series track along with all of the other data that makes these types of comparisons possible. This will be a great addition.


Review Summary Fisica Sensor Key

The Fisica Sensor Key opens up a lot of possibilities for fitness and health monitoring using the iPhone. Set-up and use is quick and easy, the functioning application and Fisica Sensor Key doesn't overly drain the battery and while it sticks out of the bottom of the iPhone, it is not a problem for me. The folks at Wahoo are still working on their splash resistant iPhone case that includes the ANT+ sensor onboard, with a mount system on the back making the whole system even more useful.

I think the Fisica Sensor Key great right now, and it gives me the opportunity to monitor my progress and my overall condition at the moment. It's full potential is just starting to be tapped into, with future developments in Apps like MapMyRide, the data capture and insight into your workouts is only going to get better. With the current capabilities and the improvements planned, I very much recommend the Fisica Sensor Key now for use in your fitness routine.   

The Fisica Sensor Key and Wahoo fitness sensors are available at Wahoo Fitness.

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Posted by Scott Martin at November 2, 2010 11:15 AM

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