We live in an age where there is a Bluetooth device for almost everything. These devices, especially in the health and wellness section of the market make a whole lot of claims; from sleeping better, eating better, or even making sure you drink enough water. And as someone who attends CES every year, I’ve seen pretty much everything you can think of and most of it is nothing but a novelty. So when something like Backbone comes along that actually manages something positive, I get a little excited.
The Backbone system is about as simple as it gets. What you have is a smart posture brace that connects via a mobile app to help you keep your best posture at all times: it supports your shoulders and back, gently vibrates whenever you slouch. In fact, I’m wearing the device as I type this and its warned me of my posture a few times already. You see, I spend my days writing in one form or another. This means the majority of my day is spent sitting, and not sitting in the best possible way. I have a fancy gaming chair and everything, but I tend to spend far too much time hunched over, or extended in all sorts of funny positions.
So when the Backbone was sent my way I was happy to check it out, as I know that my posture is pretty poor while working. That said, the Backbone isn’t some magic device that fixes anything. What it does do is use its built-in sensors (a small little device you slide into the shoulder straps) to warn you when you are not in a healthy and back-friendly position. It’s not automatic as you have to set the device to your correct position, but after that it will keep warning you as long as the connected app is on.
What I appreciate is that the Backbone doesn’t fix anything, instead it lets you fix yourself, thus making the results stick better. So many devices claim to do all sorts of magical things, but so few of them just work to help you. Now, it’s not a perfect system as you need to turn on the Backbone via the app, as well as setting your posture every time you use it, but it’s a pretty quick process. The vibration is strong enough that you won’t miss it, even if you are wearing the brace over a few layers of clothes. If this were everything the Backbone did it would be a fine enough device, if a little basic, but it goes beyond simply buzzing at you.
I had no knowledge about the device, other than it was supposed to help your posture, before the company sent one over. Once I downloaded and installed the app on my mobile device I was surprised by what was included. You can, of course, simply turn on the device, but the app is chalk-full of additional content that I found myself using quite a bit. You can access a number of workout sessions that you unlock as you complete. This might seem a little weird, but as a gamer I really dig this sort of unlocking as it makes you keep working to unlock additional sessions.
Outside of these dedicated workout sessions you can access the training content directly from another section of the app. This section is broken up between posture, exercises, stretches, and mobility sub-sections. The posture section has a number of posture sessions that vary from a few minutes all the way up to 20 minute sessions. This allows you to pick the perfect session if you are at your desk and are short on time. The exercise section has a number of standard exercises that you’ve probably seen, but each come with a animated gif to show you how it’s done. The stretches section is the same, as is the mobility section. It’s a nice addition to have all these demonstrations in one spot as getting up to stretch is really important.
The last major section of the app features an education section that features the same sort of thing as the last section, but instead of gifs, features full videos that get into the details and lets you have your own personal trainer. You will want to watch these videos to understand each workout and once you are comfortable you can go back to the other section featuring the gifs for a quick refresher. Both of these section could have been combined into one, but it works for what it is.
The Backbone app works well and the features are appreciated, but most everyone is simply going to start their posture session and stick to that. And for that it works fine, but I do have some concerns. The biggest is that I can’t find any information on Backbone Labs, the company behind this, and on how to purchase the device. The website leads to deleted YouTube videos, and the store page is empty. Clicking on the purchase button took me to an Indiegogo page that was under construction.
So, being the journalist my degree says I am, I did some digging. Looking on their Facebook page at the time of this writing shows that the last post was on September 28th with the only review of the business being a single star rating. It was here that I found the company had originally ran a Kickstarter, not an Indiegogo that their website leads to. Not only that, but they destroyed their goal as they asked for less than $30,000 and brought in over $400,000. The project completed in May of 2016 so they have had enough time to figure everything out.
Backbone Labs has been shipping units out to backers since this summer, but the comments section of the Kickstarter features tons of very unhappy people who have yet to receive their device or want a refund from it not being what they expected. There are also issues with communication, and from all the digging I had to do to find out more about the Backbone, I can understand where they are coming from. Sure, I have a PR contact I can reach out to, but I like to learn about a product like a regular consumer would if I have issues or questions.
All that said, the Backbone does everything it says it does when sent to me. The app is still being updated so there is a team working on it. And at the end of the day it has helped with my posture and for that I am thankful. It’s nothing more than a device that alerts you to you posture, but if that’s what you want then it works fine. My only real issue at the time of this writing is that I have no idea how much this thing costs, or where you can get yourself one. I know I’m part of the tech press, but even still I think backers of a Kickstarter should be taken care of first, as their money helped create this device.
The Kickstarter says you can get the device for $49.00 during the now ended campaign, and they say that’s 50% of the MSRP the Backbone will be priced at. Again, I can’t confirm that price point as I can’t find the device for sale, but if it does sell for $100 then I simply can’t recommend the device. That much money for a device that vibrates every now and then seems like a real waste. I feel like a Raspberry Pi could be outfitted to do the safe thing, but that’s just me. I really do feel like this is a fine idea hindered by a poorly run campaign and marketing.
“A promising device hindered by it’s possibly high price and lack of readily available information”
Take a look at how weird it is when I tried to buy a Backbone device below: