Eric Johnson

Recent Posts by Eric Johnson

Blue Goji Teams Up With MyFitnessPal to Get Cardio-Gaming Devices in Shape


Blue Goji, the latest startup from serial entrepreneurs Kai and Charles Huang, posits that fitness would be more fun if addictive mobile games were layered on top of cardio workouts. Starting today, the company will learn just how many exercisers feel the same.

MyFitnessPal, the eight-year-old diet-and-exercise community, has partnered with Blue Goji for a “limited launch” that will give its users special benefits for being early adopters. As I wrote in an article about Blue Goji’s plans in July, that hardware includes:

… A small activity tracker, which would clip to one’s clothes or slip into a pocket; the “controller,” two adjustable-width black bands, each with two buttons on them, in blue, yellow, red and green; and two lightweight “batons” … [which] accommodate the bands so that [treadmill] runners can reach all four buttons.

screenshot_1The activity tracker works similarly to wearable fitness devices like the Jawbone Up or Fitbit Flex, while the controllers talk with mobile devices over Bluetooth to wirelessly control simple games like Smash the Blocks (an action-runner game), Beat Drop (a puzzle game similar to Tetris Attack) or Fisticuffs (a boxing game).

For example, in Smash the Blocks, the player controls a rolling yellow character, Ball Guy, who slams into evil blocks that have imprisoned his yellow-ball friends. In the Goji Play version of the game, Ball Guy only moves forward if the player is running, biking or using the elliptical.

The games are free to hardware owners via a companion app, and have been internally funded by Blue Goji. Although some have been adapted to the Goji Play from touch controls, the company had a hand in all eight of the games to incorporate the fitness data being collected by the activity tracker, CEO Kai Huang said in an interview.

Huang acknowledged that part of the challenge was limiting how much the games would listen to the tracker, to keep the games fun while still providing positive feedback during the workout.

Back in July, the company was hoping to launch on both iOS and Android, but that has been revised to iOS-only. The $100 Goji Play hardware and software is compatible with the iPhone 4s and above, iPod touch, iPad 3 and above, and iPad mini. COO Zach Fountain said the games have been designed with the iPads’ larger screens in mind, but that the hardware-software pairing is the same on all devices.

Although anyone can buy a Goji Play kit from the company’s website, the Blue Goji-MyFitnessPal partnership will link workout data collected by both services and, in return, give MFP members a sort of VIP pass; they’ll have early access to future hardware prototypes and software, and will be consulted by the Goji team about how to improve the existing products.

That feedback will then set up a broader consumer launch, planned for later this year, Huang said.

MyFitnessPal claims 40 million user registrations to date, and recently raised $18 million from Kleiner Perkins and Accel Partners. Company representatives declined to share how many of those users are active, or numbers relating to user retention.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik