Onyx is a fitness app that uses on-device computer vision to bring the at-home training experience to the mass market. The digital training app utilises a smartphone camera coupled with AI-powered movement tracking to count reps, correct form in real-time while providing on-demand workouts.
The central experience with Onyx is personalisation. A user’s training performance is tracked and tailored to their own form giving them an at-home personal trainer.
There are gamified components like social and friend-based leaderboards and rep tracking challenges built into the app to boost motivation which is quite often the reason why people reduce their desire towards training.
In this conversation we talked at length to the CEO and co-founder of Onyx Asaf Avidan Antonir to understand how they’ve built a digital fitness product that is more necessary than ever.
You’re already ahead of the curve for the at-home training. Other competitors have moved into developing fitness apps for at-home use, but you’ve been honing and developing Onyx for about two years. What did you see that necessitated the idea of at-home on-demand training?
Asaf Avidan Antonir: “The reason we went for at-home fitness, which also came a from our needs, is that a lot of people either don’t have the extra capital to spend on personal trainers or expensive studio classes, or they’ll just be too busy to get to the gym, schedule around the trainer or class.
“James (Sha – CTO & co-founder) and I were working on another company before Onyx. As we were working on this, we were busy and we didn’t have as much disposable income. We could no longer go to classes and trainers like we were used to and so we found ourselves working out a lot more from home.
“We’ve talked to a lot of fitness consumers who in a ‘normal’ world, a non-COVID world, were already having to work out from home because that is what works for their budget, schedule or both. So we thought this was a meaningful segment of the market that was not being properly catered to. You had these amazing experiences in the gym and in the studio, but the home fitness experience we felt was very limited, so that’s what led us to really focus on that.”
A couple of interesting things that I note, Onyx replicates the motivation you get whilst in the gym, it could be either a training buddy or the coach or anything like that helps to give incentives, support and motivation. How do you bring those positive, psychological, even physiological triggers to keep people motivated at home. What do you try and replicate or bring from the gym into Onyx?
AAA: “I think accountability is really at the core of what we’re doing and our technology is what truly enables that accountability. One aspect of that, when you work out with a trainer for example, is that when someone is there watching you, motivating you, you’re going to really push yourself to do all of you reps, go all the way, and maintain proper form. All these things that are going to lead to you getting so much more out of the workout. When you’re by yourself you don’t have any of that accountability because no one’s watching you. That’s one component that our technology enables, because it knows if you’re actually doing it and will correct you if your form is not optimal.
“The second part is the accountability of just having other real people around you. While we have this digital tracking component, we think it’s super important to work out with others and this is where the social component of Onyx really comes into play. When you’re working out with your friends, whether it’s in real time during a class or just being able to compare scores afterwards, that is a huge driver of accountability. Before Onyx we saw that no home fitness product for general fitness, things like body weight and weight exercises, could properly track performance. Therefore, social was not possible because the honour system just doesn’t work when you’re trying to compete with others or compare scores.”
Why is computer vision so vital to your solution?
AAA: “Computer vision to us is sort of the game changer in the space in terms of the things that it is able to track. You’ve had solutions for the longest time in running and cycling that leveraged GPS to understand how fast you’re going or how far you’ve gone. Then there’s the heart rate which is super important. It’s a good gauge for how hard you’re working, how many calories you’ve burned. But for most exercises, body weight exercises or weight based exercises, the core metrics that you want to understand, to see if you’re improving or making progress is not what your heart rate is and what it happened to be last time you were doing any training but it’s being able to know if you’re doing more reps over time, is your form improving? Are you able to go faster? None of those things are measurable with a heart rate sensor.
“The reason computer vision is so important is it can track all of these things like rep counts, pace and form. Some might even get basic rep counts with an accelerometer just by measuring a repeated motion. But then if you’re doing a push up, if I’ve got a sensor on my arm, does it actually know if I’ve gone all the way down? Computer vision is such a core component, and a game changer in the space, as it allows you to understand what the person’s entire body is doing in 3D. You can do rep counts and things like that but you can also start to understand even more intricate things like flexibility, mobility and balance. Things that historically have required an expensive motion capture suit and somebody monitoring you. Suddenly you have all of this in a consumer device so we think that’s pretty incredible in terms of what that enables.”
How might the at-home user experience improve in the future?
AAA: “There’s a lot! On the technology side, we have plans to expand our exercise base. We support about 30 exercises, but there are a lot more exercises – upper body, core and cardio – that we plan to support as well as expand out into other activities like yoga and Pilates.
“On the product front, one of the things that’s super important to us is expanding our content base. That involves both moving into other modalities or activities as I mentioned, and having a cadence of new weekly workouts that users can come back to and see what’s new.
“Another very important aspect of what we’re doing is around personalisation. So I mentioned all these things that we’re able to track about your body and performance. With those kinds of details around your performance we will be able to understand your unique abilities. We see a lot of potential in how we build that personalised plan for you by looking at where you’re doing well, which areas can be improved and who are the thousands of users like you in a similar stage in their fitness journey and with similar goals. What we do is take all that information and leverage it to really give you the best possible recommendation. This is something that a trainer does at a small scale. They’ll try to track your performance with you, they have their knowledge and their previous clients that they base their knowledge off of but we can actually do that off of thousands of users with much more detailed tracking than even what a trainer can really track for you as an individual person.”
Can your technology coexist with the physical gym and the personal trainer? I don’t subscribe to the idea of the gym being ‘dead.’ Digital technologies, digital tracking technologies, the trainer and the physical can work in sync.
AAA: “There are a few ways to coexist. So the simple one is there are people that will definitely work out at home and at the gym. Yeah, people are saying that the ‘gym is dead,’ I don’t think so, people will go back to the gym. I think a lot more people will work out at home more often and go to the gym when they can especially if there’s something specific they want to do. So that’s more from an experience and a user standpoint.
“From a technology standpoint, can something like what we’re doing be used in the gym? For us as a mobile solution, I think there will be people who use it at the gym, we saw some of that happen before COVID started. But we also believe that in the future, the gym will have this kind of tracking as well. You’ll have an intelligent gym where you’ll see metrics either on a screen or embedded into the mirror and with tracking you’ll have cameras all over the place where everything will be tracked automatically. It’ll look a lot like Amazon Go but at the gym. We have no doubt that’s going to exist. There are some challenges with that, gyms inherently have to strike a balance between getting a bunch of subscribers but not having everybody show up. So creating an amazing experience of the gym, there’s a little bit of conflict of interest. What I’m very curious about is what will that model be?”
What have you learnt from you current users as they help you guide your product?
AAA: “Being able to track progress is super important to users. If you’re not able to track progress, it’s very easy to lose motivation because you don’t know if you’re actually reaching your goals. But if you can set a goal and stick with it, that does help with overall retention. Then the social aspect, we know that a lot of our users really care about being able to work out with their friends, and today, it’s fairly simple. You can do a workout where you can see your friends on the leaderboard and everyone who has previously completed that workout. But we do want to move into more of the live experience where you can work out together in real time and so a lot of what our users are telling us, that’s what’s driving us in that direction.”
I want to get into design philosophies. Where do you get your design cues or inspirations?
AAA: “I’m definitely inspired by products that are just incredibly easy to use and incredibly intuitive. This might be a little cliche but a lot of Apple products are just so intuitive right off the bat, and the way they design them make a lot of sense.
“For Onyx, there are things in our experience that we sort of had to invent from scratch. When was the last time you had to interact with your phone from eight feet away from your body? Everything is done with your fingertips. There are some experiences like the Connect and Wii where you interact with a screen from far away. But with your phone, at least until we move towards that casting and TV experience, there’s some challenges. How do you make everything large enough where you can see what’s on the screen? How do you tell a user if they need to come closer, scoot back or move sideways and what is the right way to do that?
“We don’t want our user interface to look like every other fitness product, many of them look exactly the same and we wanted to have a more intense look to it. We wanted to have this slightly digital, colourful, bright, kind of intense, futuristic edge too. The technology and slightly futuristic aspect of it means we want people coming into the app to feel like they’re about to embark on a brand new type of fitness experience.”
Thank you to Ida from Nordic Sports Tech for the introduction to Asaf and Onyx! Check them out here.