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Catching Your Breath: The Latest Wearable Measures Respiration, Too

Spire goes beyond step counting -- but will consumers pay to be told how to breathe?

A San Francisco startup has developed a wearable device that monitors breathing patterns and a mobile app that suggests adjustments, promising to allow users to control stress levels or otherwise improve their states of mind.

Or as the press release says in a cereal-box-worthy claim, Spire helps people “have a balanced and focused day.”

But the product arrives in a cluttered wearables market where similarly vague wellness assertions have yet to translate into broad consumer demand.

The company scores points for bothering to deliver a health tracker that measures something other than steps, sleep and calories. It’s far from clear, however, whether consumers will pay good money for tips on a task they’ve managed since exiting the womb.

Starting Tuesday, the company is accepting preorders on its website at a cost of $119.99. Spire, which is in discussions with additional retail channels, plans to deliver the first products in September. The normal retail rate will run $149.99.

The company has raised about $1.5 million from Rock Health, Stanford University’s StartX and undisclosed angel investors.

Spire resembles a smooth gray stone, if smooth gray stones came with belt clips. It slips on near the hip and measures respiration by tracking abdominal movement.

The smoothness and consistency of breaths as well as the inhalation-to-exhalation ratio can reveal periods of tension, relaxation and focus, the company says. If users take shallow breaths for an extended period — while, say, grinding through a story on deadline — the iOS app might remind them to take deep breaths, clear their mind or release tension.

If it sounds more like a yoga teacher than a doctor, that’s no accident. As with most wearables, the company hasn’t earned approval from the Food and Drug Administration, so it can’t make medical-grade diagnoses or weighty health claims.

But the company insists the product is based on sound science. Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Neema Moraveji is director of Stanford University’s Calming Technology Lab, which studies how products can mitigate the effects of stress.

During moments of tension, the body releases stress hormones, the heart beats faster and the lungs pick up speed, he said. Breathing is one of the few physiological symptoms that we can exercise direct control over, particularly when we’re made aware that it’s out of whack. That, in turn, helps the rest of the body return to a normal state.

“Skin sweating, you have no control over,” Moraveji said in an interview. “But respiration sits at the conscious/unconscious border.”

The device also tracks steps and body position. It comes with standard wearable sensors, including an accelerometer, as well as a few the company declines to discuss. They’ve applied for a patent to protect the technology (which means nothing more than what that sentence says).

The package includes a mahogany cork wireless charging dock that looks like a fancy drink coaster. The app connects via Bluetooth low energy, promising a light impact on battery life. When open, it registers every breath in real time by appearing to fog up.

So who’s their target customer?

“In a sense, it’s everyone,” said Jonathan Palley, co-founder and chief executive officer. “But where we see the beginning is people who identify with the idea that feeling healthy at the end of the day is about more than fitness.”

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