I'm pretty sure this fine young man to your right is using our first product, FitBeat. There's no way to know for sure, but the tell-tale signs are there. Notice the air of confidence, the bulging muscles, the glistening sweat produced by the extra motivation he's received from the app. I mean, he's not even breathing hard! I'm a little confused as to whether he just ran right out of the ocean or just turned a sharp corner to face the camera, which, by the color of the grass, is apparently in Teletubby Land. But I digress.
It all started, like many wacky ideas, as one of those what-if moments. No, I didn't fall and hit my head on the toilet and have a vison after regaining consciousness, although the bathroom is hands-down the best place for good inventions to be born. I had recently taken up exercise after many years of watching my chest droop until it looked more like a bag of partially congeled jello than pectoral muscles. One day while crusing along the path by my house listening to Pandora on my iPhone I noticed I was unconsiously speeding up and slowing down depending on the song that was playing. It bothered me. I figured there should be a way to make my music follow me at the same tempo that I'm running, so I don't have to constantly pay attention to my speed.
I also noticed that every once in a while, a song would come on that was coincidentally exactly the right tempo. When that happened it (I know you runners have probably felt this) it was like something just switched in my head and my legs. I suddently felt I could go forever. Yeah, lot's of songs were close to the correct tempo, but having them close was even more frustrating because then my mind really wanted to follow the beat. I could never find my stride that way.
During the time that I was considering this problem I came across some recent research conducted by Brunel University in London regarding the benefits of exercising to music. Of course, many of you already know that there's a psychological benefit to listening to music during workouts, but this research took that to another level. It indicated that there were significant physiological benefits as well. One particular study showed that cyclists listening to music that was synchronized to their cadence consumed 7% less oxygen than when listening to unsynchronized music. 7% may not sound like a big difference, but when you're racing toward the finish line that 7% will make all the difference.
Once I heard about this, I knew what that "I can go forever" feeling I had experienced was all about. It was much more than just a psychological boost I was feeling. It was actually physically affecting my exercise! I was motivated to solve this synchronization problem in a simple, intuitive way to help other people.
I've worked in professional audio for my entire career, so I knew that this was not an easy task. In fact, changing the tempo of recorded music without causing that familiar "chipmunk" effect is really hard. Doing it without noticable distortion to the audio has been considered something of a holy grail for audio engineers. It's fairly simple to just speed up or slow down digital audio to adjust the tempo. The problem is that the tempo of the music is inextricably tied to the pitch. Pitch is related to how fast the sound waves are moving back and forth. Speed up the playback and suddenly the waves move faster. What was a middle C sounds like a high A flat.
Additionaly, the speed-up causes the original sound source, say, a singer, to sound much smaller due to changes in something called formants. In other words, Barry White suddenly sounds like Brittney Spears. Hence the chipmunk effect. Incidentally, it works in reverse too. Slowing down the music makes most people sound like a wasted Fat Albert. "Heyyyy, heyyyy, heyyyy!" If you don't know who Fat Albert is our public school system has failed you. Here is some homework for you.
There was another problem. Even if I could make the audio play at the right speed and pitch for my stride, or cadence, I first had to measure what that stride was. I didn't want people to have to enter their speed manually, especially for outdoor running. Sure, some kind of foot-mounted sensor could be strapped onto a shoe or leg, but besides the lameness of looking like an ex-con with an ankle transponder it also seemed kind of klunky. The Nike+ system is cool because it uses sensors built into the shoes, but making my own shoes seemed unlikely, and much to Nike's chagrin not everyone wears their shoes. I figured it could be done with the sensors in a standard smart phone or iPod Touch.
To make a long story short, I was pretty naive about the difficulty of both these problems. I even had some very intelligent people tell me it couldn't be done. Somehow, that always seems to be the way with good ideas. Of course, after investing a lot of blood, sweat, tears and good ol' American greenbacks we came up with FitBeat, a music app designed for fitness enthusiasts. It not only automatically fits your music to your natural tempo but tracks your exercise stats as well. We figured, why use separate media player and exercise apps when they fit so naturally together. It's simple to use and useful. We think you'll like it enough to use during every workout and blab about it to your friends, which you can do with our built-in tweet feature. Enjoy!