This elegant-looking metal and glass bathroom scale is summed up perfectly by its name; it weighs people and connects to the Internet. However, what its moniker doesn't explain is why anyone might need such a device - or be willing to part with $160 American dollars to get it.
I have a thought about this.
People are attracted to statistics. They deliver useful information about the world and our place within it. More to the point, tracking and comparing our personal weight, body-mass index, lean mass, and fat composition to the generally accepted healthy norms gives us a rough idea of how fit we are. Plus, keeping an eye on personal stats can act as an excellent motivator for weight loss and help us stay dedicated to exercise regimens.
Thing is, we're lazy. We're unlikely to pull out a pen and paper each time we weigh ourselves or walk wrapped in a towel from the bathroom and through the house each morning to enter our numbers into a spreadsheet on a computer.
A wireless scale acts as a refined answer. It addresses our desire to track weight and solves the practical problems associated with it.
Once you've set up the Withings scale - a roughly 10-minute affair that involves inserting batteries, connecting the device via USB to your computer, downloading a connection wizard from Withings' website and creating an account populated with the people who will be using the scale - all you need do from that point on is step on it at regular intervals. The wireless connection and the MyWithings online app - which can be accessed from your PC or your iPhone - takes care of everything else.
On the subject of the MyWithings app, it has a simple interface, graceful aesthetic, and is fairly self explanatory - which is good, since the text tips provided are often awkwardly written and can leave one a little confused.
It lets users view a line chart tracking changes in weight over the course of hours, days, weeks, months, or years, as well as a second chart that shows changes in lean mass, fat, and height (that last one in case you happen to be measuring children - Withings has thoughtfully provided a good old-fashioned analogue measuring tape in the box). Another box on the screen shows a trio of horizontal bars that indicate where you fall in terms of generally accepted norms for weight, lean mass, and fat, as well as your personal goals, should you choose to create any.
The app can also sync up your weight measurements with other common health programs, including Google Health Account, Microsoft HealthVault, and Training Peaks, though, as I don't hold an account with these services, I didn't test this functionality. People of particularly sharing disposition can choose to automatically publish their weight measurements on the Withings site or Twitter. I didn't test this functionality either. I understand the rationale behind this feature - it's a weight loss incentive - but I have no interest in distributing information about my day-to-day weight variances to the rest of the world.
One of the questions I had prior to testing the scale is if and how it might distinguish between users. The answer is that it can differentiate users, and that it does so based on how close the current measurement is to that of the last known weights of all users. If it's within two or three kilograms of one user it will automatically assign the measurement to that person. If it's not close to anyone it will get fed into an "unknown" profile. Users need simply click on an unknown measurement to add it to their profile. If there are a couple of users of roughly the same weight, you'll be prompted to place your weight on one foot or the other while on the scale to choose the right profile.
In the event that one or more members of the family prefer not to share their weight with the rest of the clan they can create password for their profiles. But be warned: there is still a risk that a measurement might end up in the "unknown" profile for all to see.
One last feature worth mentioning is the immediate feedback shown on the scale's digital screen. If you continue to stand on the scale once the current measurement has been uploaded it will show two bars comparing your current BMI and fat composition to the norm for your age, sex, and height. These bits of instant information may be useful for those who find they aren't taking the time to access the online app regularly.
Even with all of this seemingly useful functionality there's no getting around the fact that Withings' scale is a luxury. Connected or not, there aren't many people who would seriously entertain spending more than $100 on a common - and usually inexpensive - bathroom appliance.
Or would they?
Nintendo's wireless Balance Board for the Wii, which costs $100, has sold tens of millions of units, and it's more or less the same tech bundled with some fitness software. The utility is evident. If they're marketed properly and come down in price just a bit, wireless bathroom scales could one day become almost as ubiquitous as their low-fi counterparts.