The Oura ring has sensors on its inside that track heart rate, respiration, activity and temperature. Picture: Jeff Swensen/The Washington Post
The Oura ring has sensors on its inside that track heart rate, respiration, activity and temperature. Picture: Jeff Swensen/The Washington Post

Oura Ring – the ultimate health wearable

By Fast Company Time of article published Nov 28, 2021

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Among its accomplishments to date, Oura (which is pronounced like “aura”) deserves a spot on any list of crowdfunding projects that have turned into real businesses. In August 2015, Finland’s Petteri Lahtela and Hannu Kinnunen – both of whom had backgrounds in technology and health – launched a Kickstarter campaign for a ring that was primarily devoted to helping people improve their days by sleeping better. By the standard of the rings they’d later release, their first-generation version was a bit of a bulky blob. But it spoke to enough people to raise $651,803 from 2,383 backers.

The following year, Lahtela and Kinnunen rustled up $5.3M from investors, mainly in the US, to continue to build the company. Harpreet Singh Rai, an Oura user and investor, became president in 2017 and CEO in 2018. Lahtela and Kinnunen left their active management roles in 2020. The company has grown to 350 employees with a sizeable San Francisco presence and satellite offices in other cities, along with its original home base in Oulu, Finland.

Along the way, the second-generation Oura, released in 2018, delivered on the promise of the original idea. Though it still wasn’t exactly dainty, it looked like, well, a ring. Rather than making you plug in a micro-USB cable to recharge, it came with a nifty inductive charging stand, with battery life increasing from two or three days to around a week. Compared to something like an Apple Watch, it asked very little of the wearer; you could even forget you had it on.

Then there was the smartphone app – which was a giant part of the whole proposition, since the Oura Ring has no interface of its own. It offers the prerequisite stats and charts covering everything from how much REM sleep you got to whether you’re meeting your activity goals over time. Its signature feature is the Readiness score, a bottom-line number representing how ready you are to take on the day based on factors such as sleep, resting heart rate and temperature. Through updates, the app has increasingly emphasised easy-to-digest advice and encouragement; as I write, it’s suggesting that I start winding down for the day – which I would, if I wasn’t trying to finish this article.

The third-generation Oura Ring looks identical to its predecessor and doesn’t tamper with the basics of the experience. But it’s upped its sensor game, building on the fact that a finger is an especially efficient place to take readings of vital signs such as pulse and temperature, which helps the ring deliver accurate results without blowing through battery life. (“When you walk outside on a cold day, your hands and your toes and your ears and your nose – all your extremities – get cold first,” notes Rai.)

The new ring’s additions include two green LEDs that can monitor your heart rate during the day, not just when you’re sleeping. There are now seven temperature sensors, up from three, for greater accuracy. A red LED and infrared sensor have been added for measuring blood-oxygen levels at night, giving the ring an additional signal for assessing sleep quality.

The catch is that when the ring launched earlier this month, Oura didn’t have all the functionality in place that it’s been working on. Heart rate measurement during workouts is due by the end of 2021, as is a large library of educational content on subjects, such as sleep and meditation. Blood-oxygen sensing and improved sleep tracking are promised for next year. The fact that certain features were no-shows and will cost $6/month when they arrive has raised some hackles: “I understand why people are feeling frustrated,” wrote Wired reviewer Adrienne So, who said she was disappointed herself and gave the new ring a so-so rating of 6 out of 10.

Rai says that the explanation for Oura’s new subscription plan is simple: implementing technologies such as machine-learning models and adding more personalised advice is expensive. “For both of those reasons, we felt like moving to a membership model helps us invest in this business and keep pushing the frontier faster than others,” he adds. “And we honestly think that’s what our members want. That’s what they tell us.” Now to see what users say next year when more new features are in place.

A research lab on a finger

One thing that Oura’s founders couldn’t have anticipated back when they were launching their Kickstarter was how central health research would become to the company’s mission. For researchers, the Oura Ring provides a way to collect relevant data that doesn’t ask much of test subjects other than that they occasionally recharge it. And for Oura, supporting such studies isn’t just a contribution to the world’s understanding of human health – it’s also a springboard for discoveries that inform product development.

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Harry McCracken, Fast Company

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