The team behind Spire has developed a sensor to measure and analyze your breathing pattern to give you yet another quantified self parameter. The device itself looks like a small stone and is easy to use with a reliable software but in the end the accuracy of the analysis can be questioned. And then in turn what it should be used for.
Getting deeper into the world of quantified self and in particular My Quantified Mood, I soon started looking for more parameters to include. Many wearables and sensors compete in the same arena, most commonly measuring steps, sleep and heart rate. Spire has found it’s own niche where they not only measure breathing frequency but also claims to be able to analyze your breathing pattern and provide feedback on whether you are focused, calm or tense. The deivce also doubles as a step counter.
Spire unboxing and first impression
The whole thing comes in an appealing box and it is very easy to get everything unpacked and plugged in. The actual device looks like a rather small stone that you attach with a clip to the lining of your trousers or bra. It measures your breathing pattern by resting against your stomach following its movements. The charging unit is in the form of a plate where the stone is placed, with a tiny blue lamp ensuring you it is charging. Downloading and connecting to the app is also a breeze. You immediately get to see your breathing in real time in the form of a curve moving up and down, and soon enough you start to get reports on ”streaks”. Those streaks are longer passages where your breathing pattern is determined to be either calm, focused or tense, or when you move around and get an “activity” streak. You are also able to set goals on the total time you aim to spend in the different states each day.
If Spire senses that your breathing pattern is tense, you get a buzzing sensation from the stone, and a suggestion to take a deep breath and unwind. Initially this feels very nice, a friendly reminder to wind down, and the app provides a selection of short audio guided meditations to help you get back on track.
Follow up a month later
After using the Spire device for a month, it starts to show some shortcomings. This to a large extent subjective, but does very much affect my opinion of it. The most critical point is that it doesn’t seem to be very accurate when it comes to the patterns. The measurement of calm vs. focus seems a bit random, and especially the buzzing signalling I’m supposedly tense happens almost exclusively when I’m in a very focused mode, focused to the extent that I am almost forgetting to breathe. I was hoping for a more usable definition of tense, as in a state I want to get out of, and now I tend to ignore the buzzing.
Also, it is hard find any use of the analysis of calm and focused streaks, and I’m not sure what to do with the information, even if it’s accurate. This is of course not a faulty design of the product, but rather a buyers remorse: “Do I really need this”. This in combination with the credibility being low, the device becomes pretty useless.
On the positive side, it still works and measures my respiratory frequency in a correct manner, and there are no bugs or issues with either software or hardware. The guided meditations are pretty good, but at the same time there is app store offers a huge selection of similar tools that offers guided breaks or meditations for busy people at a much lower price.
Room for improvement
I like the idea with Spire, since breathing is a commonly overlooked data point for quantified mood. It is hard to know if the analysis can become any better, or if there’s just not that much information that can be read from your breath in an automated way. The tag line is “Discover calm”, so the biggest area of improvement would be to make it do just that; to find the real breathing patterns of negative tension and help me get out of it.
Spire breathing sensor is a great idea that doesn’t really keep what it promises.