15/1/21: I’ve edited this article to reflect my current experience using the FOCI. I’ve rewritten the Verdict section to better reflect my thoughts and added a Q&A section. To my knowledge, this should be the most extensive review of the FOCI available.
(This article is a follow-up to one I wrote last year.)
The main wearable I use regularly is a smart watch, and I’ve been curious as to what the ‘next level’ would be in terms of wearables.
We’ve heard of Amazon trialing employee-tracking wearables, but what about a wearable for the general consumer who wants to reduce distractions and improve focus?
To answer this question, over a year ago I ‘backed’ (not purchased, they’re very clear on the fact I’m not a ‘customer’) the ‘FOCI’ on Indiegogo: a novel, wearable gadget promising to help me improve my ability to focus.
Table of Contents:
How It Works: In a Nutshell
The FOCI is clipped onto the waist, next to your abdomen. By tracking abdominal movements, it is able to measure your breathing. This data is fed to the AI model, which then determines your mind state.
The FOCI tracks six cognitive states: Focus, Calm, Distracted (Not in Focus), Fatigue, Stress, and Flow. Each mind state is colour-coded and updates in real time. This device is designed specifically for desk work: it’s accurate only when you are seated.
The Learning Phase
After setup the FOCI needs 2-3 days of use to get to ‘know you’ and learn your breathing patterns in order to provide accurate measurements.
Your performance of each day is mapped as a line graph: the line represents the accumulative level of focus achieved during that day.
My highest performing day to date (where I achieved ‘flow state’) was during this learning phase. As expected of any ‘learning phase’ (artificial intelligence or not), readings during this period are less accurate. There were some days after that I felt like I was actually performing better with higher levels of focus, but their data readings were comparatively lower.
The FOCI itself won’t tell you when you’re in focus (the real time monitoring does that), but will vibrate to alert you if you’re distracted or your focus is slipping. You can also have it vibrate if it detects stressed or fatigued states (you can customise which of the four vibration alerts you want).
Ironically, in the first few weeks of using it I found having the app open on my phone the most distracting way to use it. My eyes would drift over occasionally to the colour changing orb on the screen just to see how I was doing, which sometimes ended my focus streak.
Having my phone screen always-on meant incoming notifications were more distracting than ever (I ended up turning on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode as a workaround).
For these reasons, when I sit down to work I’ll only have the app open when:
- I want to see how quickly I can get into a focused state at the beginning of a work session
- I keep getting distraction alert vibrations from the FOCI, and open the app to use the Focus Boost in the app to either practice the Focus Breathing technique, or the Calm Breathing technique (if I was getting stressed alerts)
As far as wearables go, it is compact and discrete (44.3 x 20.7 x 12.8mm in dimension, and weighs 10g). The main body of the device is nestled snugly inside the waist of your pants. Note: Well-fitted and elastic waistlines are best — thick layers of clothes will interfere with its ability to measure your abdomen.
When I clipped it on my pants (even those made of thinner, ‘breathable’ materials for sportswear) the app would tell me the signal was weak. Everyone’s wardrobe is a bit different, but in my experience I found the best way to wear it is clipped on the inside of my underwear (where the signal is always the strongest).
As far as comfort goes, this will mainly depend on what pants you’re wearing on a given day. If the waistline is tight, it may be slightly uncomfortable — especially if you choose to clip it onto your underpants.
Expect to adjust it every so often, because the waistline will push the FOCI into your abdomen. In these cases, the FOCI will leave a temporary imprint on your abdomen from the pressure (it’ll depend on your belly size too).
According to TinyLogics, the FOCI lasts 7 days on a single charge.
In my experience it usually lasts about 6–8 days, because it depends on other factors like your work hours and habits (like how Mon-Fri will see the most use).
I did leave the FOCI on pants once or twice (ahem) that I put through the washing machine. The water resistance rating is accurate, but submerging it underwater for any reason is not recommended.
Overall the app is straightforward, mostly easy-to-use, with a minimalist UI that’s easy on the eyes.
However when I received my FOCI, I was confused when I wasn’t able to find the ‘Focus Biofeedback Training’ feature as advertised. The tutorial section was also clunky and poorly presented. Thankfully, a month later the training module was delivered as promised.
Unfortunately, the tutorial section is still painful to use: it runs like a 20-slide powerpoint/quiz that you have to keep pressing ‘back’ to return to the main menu.
The focus training now includes both audio and visual elements. I usually use the Focus Breathing Technique as a ‘warm-up’ prep before a grueling work task, and the Calm Breathing Technique when I’m stressed out.
A Pomodoro function has also been added with a customisable timer (anywhere between 5–150mins in length), or ‘flexible mode’ which basically just starts a timer which ends whenever you want.
Each time the app receives an update, I receive an email detailing the changes and features that have been added (monthly).
The FOCI is novel piece of tech, with an app that has delivered better value over time with each new feature added to the app.
The FOCI is not a ‘magic bullet’ to curb procrastination.
It is a nifty little gadget that provides you a toolkit of features to help you improve focus and concentration.
It’s a novel concept, for sure, but it does function as intended. Any novelty form of technology will have a growing and learning phase, and I had to undergo my own learning process too — identifying distractions, practicing breathing techniques and technology-assisted mindfulness.
The first month living with it took definitely took some getting used to (learning how to use the app more effectively, accidentally putting it in the wash, accidentally leaving it on pants and finding it a few weeks later).
The FOCI is a wearable device, but don’t think of it in the same vein as a smart watch or a fitness tracker: the true value of it lies in the software. The physical FOCI itself is just there to measure your breathing pattern and gather data— it’s TinyLogic’s AI Machine Learning model and the phone app that help you develop, hone and track your focus.
The great thing about the FOCI is that it’s basically a one-off cost, but keeps adding value over time. While the $130AUD price tag may appear steep at first, it does come with 12-month warranty and has maintained a consistent software update cycle.
The app’s improved in many ways over the 16 months since I received it: adding more more customisation options, more ‘focus tools’ and improvements to accuracy of the AI’s readings. Sure the app’s a bit clunky sometimes, but it hasn’t crashed or experienced any app-breaking bugs.
There’s no monthly sub fee, no ads, no hidden costs, no in-app purchases for “premium users”, no BS.
As a product, does it fill a gap in the market? Most definitely. I haven’t come across any other similar product yet (feel free to buzz me if you do!).
Short answer: it does work. It collects data, it’s accurate, and it will help you better understand yourself and how to improve your focus at your desk — be it for work or study.
According to the latest newsletter, the next software update is apparently such a big overhaul, that the FOCI will have to go through the initial learning stage again.
I remain optimistic and excited to see how this technology develops.
This article also appears on medium.
Questions and Answers
Thanks to Nicpaesk who spurred me into writing this follow-up product review. These are his follow up questions.
1. Did the FOCI manage to identify your moods correctly? It seems that the breathing pattern may not be decisive on this.
In my experience the accuracy is generally 75-80%: the accuracy improves over time the more data is gathered for your individual profile, and will continue to improve as long as the Machine Learning Model is further developed and updates are pushed.
I’ll give a few examples of how the FOCI performs day-to-day.
i) Beginning of the work day: You have emails to reply, presentations and reports to write up. Jumping between different work tasks may cause the FOCI to interpret your mind state as distracted.
Add in phone calls during the day and checking your phone due to notifications, and the FOCI will have a field day filling your timeline with an assortment of grey (distracted) readings.
As long as you’re switching focus between different things, it will likely detect this as distraction based on your breathing patterns. In other words, you could be a great multi-tasker and capable of doing many things simultaneously in a productive state, but the FOCI could just interpret your continual shifting of focus as distracted in nature (even if you are getting a lot of work done).
ii) The FOCI’s strength is in reflecting your focus when concentrating on single tasks: tasks like spending 30 mins on writing a section of a report or reading a book are more likely to produce ‘focused’ readings.
If you’re doing research across many different sources at once the constant shift of attention across different websites/types of media may be interpreted as sporadic, scattered and display more distracted readings – even if you are getting a lot of work done.
In other words, the FOCI would sometimes detect ‘distracted’ states when I was actually multi-tasking productively.
ii) Detecting focus while performing non-work activities: The FOCI can still produce readings of you as ‘in focus’ even when you’re actually procrastinating. You could be messaging friends, watching Netflix or even gaming: as long as you’re sitting at the desk concentrating on a task intently for a certain length of time, the FOCI will still detect you as ‘in focus’ because it aligns with your profile’s ‘focused’ breathing pattern.
Clearly the point should be to only have it on when you’re actively trying to do productive work only. For me I like to leave it pretty much all the time because I’d prefer to know whenever I enter focus states, so I can reflect on how engaged I am doing different activities throughout the day.
Also because whenever I take it off, end up focusing, I’d be so tunnel-visioned on a task that I’d only realise 1-2 hours into work tasks that I forgot to put it back on.
iii) Sleeping: I accidentally wore the FOCI to bed a few times. Sleeping is pretty much the only time the FOCI registers me as ‘calm’. (The app recommends only wearing it for focused work sessions and not during anything else, so as to increase overall accuracy)
On the other hand for some sleep sessions, the FOCI would sometimes show ‘distracted’ or ‘stressed’ states: this could be due to dreaming, restless sleep, or the FOCI going haywire because it’s not meant to be used as a sleep tracker.
2. Also, how did you come around not having the phone screen open with the orb? If it is not open, and you use it for the biofeedback, in the end, it acts just as meditation?
I should clarify and say that for 90% of the time when I sit down to do work, I don’t use the real-time monitoring. As the phone itself is often a distraction, having the screen always on with a colour-changing image is, in itself, distracting. It also kills the phone battery, as it requires both Bluetooth and Location turned on (in addition to having the screen on).
I only really use the app when I:
- want to use Focus Breathing or the Deep Work features if I have a distracted streak or I already know I’m having issues focusing for a while.
- have the real-time monitoring on for 5-10 mins at the beginning of a work session to see how quickly I can get into a focused state. Then I’ll usually let my phone lock itself and try to focus. (Sometimes I’d check the app, see I was in a focus streak, and then lose the streak – because the act of checking the app pulled my attention from the task in progress)
3. Did you feel the vibration buzz distracting?
Absolutely, especially in the first few weeks of using it. I wasn’t used to the haptic feedback. Whenever I found it too distracting and I really just wanted to get work done, I’d just take it off. Eventually I got used to the feedback and wouldn’t need to take it off as much.
Edit (14/1/2021): The current version of the app allows you to choose what types of alerts you want to receive via buzzing. It’s also possible to have it turned off completely if that’s your preference.