With Its New Samsung App, Health Startup Lark Moves Away From Hardware

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Among the freebies included in Samsung’s just-released Galaxy S5 was a new app from Lark, a health startup that’s been pretty quiet for the past year or so.

In fact, co-founder and CEO Julia Hu told me that Lark has been “pretty much in stealth mode” as it worked on the new app. The vision, she said, is still the same — the company is still trying to provide “personalized health coaching” that’s aimed at people who are less interested in counting their steps and more in general health and wellness.

However, Lark is pursuing that vision in a new way. First of all, Lark’s tips (like observing that you’ve been sitting still for a while and should maybe go for a short walk) are now packaged in a conversational format, with the app asking users questions about their activity and providing suggestions. Hu said this brings the experience closer to interacting with a real-life coach or assistant.

For another, this is a standalone app, rather than the app-plus-wristband that Lark was selling before. Apparently the company worked with Samsung to take advantage of the S5’s low-power sensors to track user activity, no additional hardware required.

Hu suggested that this marks a broader shift away from building hardware, although the company will continue to support existing Lark customers. The app-only approach should make the service more accessible, since users no longer have to buy or charge an additional device. (I tried out the Larklife wristband for a few months but eventually stopped using it.) Why make the change now? Hu said it’s because phones have advanced, so they can collect the necessary data without seriously draining the batteries: “We’ve realized that, in essence, the new smartphone with low power sensors is the ultimate wearable.”

Lark first launched at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in 2010 with a silent alarm product. (The presentation was memorable for its on-stage marriage proposal, and for prompting Sean Parker, who was one of the startup competition judges, to ask, “Are you serious?”) The company later expanded its product to include sleep coaching and broader health tracking and advice.

Last fall, a regulatory filing suggested that Lark had raised another $3.1 million. Hu confirmed the funding to me this week, saying that existing investors put the money in to support the company’s new direction. (Lark’s backers include CrunchFund — which, like TechCrunch, was founded by Michael Arrington.)

The service costs $2.99 a month, with Galaxy S5 users getting a year for free. Hu said the company is looking to launch the new app on other smartphones as well, but there are no concrete plans yet.