Connected product, a Bluetooth jump-rope, reflects digital shift
Crossrope faced hardware, software and marketing challenges -- along with the need to satisfy data-hungry fitness enthusiasts -- when it launched its first connected offering.
Crossrope, a jump-rope maker in Raleigh, N.C., launched its first connected product this year, a transition many traditional businesses are making in the digital transformation era.
The company in January rolled out Crossrope AMP, a Bluetooth-enabled jump-rope that pairs with the company's mobile app. The offering blends a physical product with a subscription model: Users may sign up for a Crossrope membership, which lets them use the app to track metrics such as jump count and jumps per minute.
Crossrope AMP, one of several connected jump-ropes vying for customer attention, is part of a growing trend. ABI Research expects unit shipments of connected consumer products to exceed 166 million annually by 2028. That's more than triple the 54 million units shipped in 2022. The sports equipment category of this market includes connected baseballs and footballs; sensor-equipped bats, rackets and golf clubs; and smart water bottles, according to ABI Research.
Founded in 2012, Crossrope initially focused on weighted, but unconnected, jump-ropes. Those products, now sold under the Crossrope Classic label, consist of handles and interchangeable ropes of varying weights. The Crossrope AMP, which also uses weighted ropes, incorporates a battery and a Bluetooth chip in one of its handles.
This approach typifies the connected consumer market. "Bluetooth has rapidly become the primary technology choice for the majority of connected consumer product applications," said Andrew Zignani, research director at ABI Research.
Connected product challenges
Products that blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds are reshaping organizational duties. The evolving CIO role now includes product development, while product managers increasingly address the technology angle. Business functions must also adapt. Indeed, creating, selling and supporting a connected product took Crossrope in new directions.
"There are a ton of challenges," said Brad Rubin, head of product at Crossrope. "It starts with the physical device."
An early task was to figure out the hardware, ensuring there were no battery or Bluetooth connectivity issues, Rubin said. Usability was key.
"Before we built AMP, we went online and looked at reviews of a lot of other connected products," Rubin said. "One of the top complaints was, 'It's too hard to connect -- it doesn't work all the time.' We wanted to provide an experience that, no matter where users came from and no matter what their technical background is, they can connect to those handles."
Ease of connection means customers can get up and jumping quickly. Another important feature: letting the user know when the product is operating and when it's not. An LED light inside the handle indicates when the jump-rope is switched on and connected. When the rope isn't used for a few minutes, an audio signal indicates that it has gone offline.
"We wanted to make it very obvious when the handle is on versus off," Rubin noted.
A Bluetooth-enabled product's companion app will sometimes come with a subscription or tiered model offering premium features.
Businesses pursuing this model, however, must strike the right balance between equipment price, subscription cost and paywalled features, Zignani said. But achieving the right mix can prove difficult. Connected product companies -- and their customers -- must make the call on whether the added features justify the added cost, over and above the product's price tag.
"Many of these devices can be quite expensive versus the nonconnected alternative" Zignani said. "Therefore, they will forgo the subscription cost in favor of a one-off payment."
Product design: Mobile app redo
In 2016, Crossrope rolled out its first mobile app to provide guided workouts. The company, however, decided to overhaul the app for its connected jump-rope, rather than simply add a jump counter to its existing workouts. "We wanted to have real-time feedback and give people a way to make the jump count more than just a number, but something engaging," Rubin said.
In one update, the revised app provides what the company calls "jump targets." A particular workout interval, for instance, might call for the user to jump 60 times within 30 seconds. The app displays a bar that compares the user's jump count to the workout's jump target -- while the clock is ticking. Another feature is free-jump mode, which displays the user's jumps-per-minute pace and current streak of consecutive jumps among other stats. The app's display is designed to be visible from eight feet away. That's because users will typically place their phones on the ground while they're jumping.
Another pivotal software change was taking the app native and moving some development activities in-house. The company had previously used a "cross-platform solution," but decided to create distinct iOS and Android apps that offer similar functionality but have their own code base, Rubin noted. That shift lets Crossrope fully take advantage of iOS and Android features, while also eliminating integration concerns, he added.
That initial mobile app also relied on outsourced development. Crossrope has since hired an internal iOS developer and an iOS designer. The company continues to work with an outside party for Android development. The Apple focus reflects Crossrope's customer base, most of which uses iOS.
In-house development offers greater agility. "Having most of the team internally, we are able to iterate and move extremely quickly and try different things out," Rubin said.
Effects on product marketing, customer support
Crossrope's leap into connected products also changed the nature of marketing and support.
"The marketing is a little bit different -- it's all dependent on the user," Rubin said.
Brad RubinHead of product, Crossrope
The Bluetooth jump-rope essentially created three sets of potential customers: one that craves data and gravitates to Crossrope AMP, one that is indifferent to data and leans toward the classic product and one that is undecided. "The tricky part is those users in the middle," Rubin said.
That's where marketing comes in: Crossrope provides customer stories on its website to help people decide whether a traditional or connected product best suits their fitness goals.
As for customer support, Crossrope AMP generates a few nontraditional inquiries. For example, customers used to charging batteries on other connected products call to ask if they need to charge their handles upon receipt. As it happens, the product's battery generally runs three to six months, out of the box.
"It's not a huge challenge for us, but it's definitely a different set of questions," Rubin said.
Building out the platform
Crossrope now aims to build out its connected offering. Rubin said a current goal is to build more social features into its app. A recent addition lets users add friends via the app so they can see each other's activities. The company is also working on leaderboards that will show users where they rank compared with others.
"We are looking at more and more ways of connecting people in the app," Rubin said.
Crossrope also plans to continue adding jumping stats to the app, a steady feed of data that Rubin suggested will be critical for connected products across a range of industries. User demand for data is only limited by their imaginations.
"If there's theoretical data you can get, customers are going to ask for it," Rubin said. "They are going to ask for it to be aggregated and displayed in different ways and delivered in different ways. Companies are going to have to step up and make that happen."