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Posture Pal: With this app you can maintain your posture

Some things don’t change the world. But they make our everyday lives a little more pleasant. Or they are just nice to have. Or even both. The ZEIT-ONLINE series “nice and useful” is about these gadgets and apps.

We’re almost a month into the year, January is almost over, and chances are good that you can’t quite remember what your resolutions were. In any case, I haven’t exercised in a single day, haven’t reduced my screen time and have broken dry and veganuary so often that my start to the year should be recorded as meatanuary and wineanuary.

In order to polish up my early year’s track record, I was looking for a minimal resolution that could be achieved without much effort. And since most of my job involves sitting at a desk, it would be good to make sitting better. There’s a lot of potential for me: I either crouch on my desk chair, hunched over like Gollum, or I slouch shapelessly like a 20-pound sack of potatoes. Whenever I remember to stand upright, it works for 30 seconds, but as soon as my thoughts go somewhere else, I collapse again.

So how do I achieve a straight posture? The developer Jordi Bruin wants to achieve this with his app Posture Pal. I’ll try those out.

Airpods help with tracking

Posture Pal wants to remind its users when they fall into bad posture. To do this, the app uses the motion sensors of headphones. If they notice that the head is tilted excessively forward or backward, the app sends a reminder to sit up straight. That’s the idea.

The app is currently only available for the iPhone and recently also for the Mac. Android and Windows users have to motivate themselves to sit up straight without Posture Pal. The compatible headphones are also Apple-centric: According to the developer, the app works with third-generation Airpods, Airpods Pro, Airpods Max and Beats Fit Pro – but potentially also with headphones from other manufacturers that record movement data. If they support 3D audio (such devices are also available from Sony or Bose), it should work.

When I first open the app, I feel like I’ve been catapulted back to elementary school, when every child still had an animal sticker on their jacket hook. Everything looks very child-friendly (although they don’t know anything about adults’ back problems – happy innocence): cute cartoon animals like “Rafi the Giraffe” illustrate their own sitting posture against colorful backgrounds. If my head falls forward, Rafi looks sad. This also works for adults: who wants to make a cute cartoon giraffe sad?

First I’ll play around with the settings a bit. In the standard sensitivity, the app alarm goes off at a head tilt of 20 degrees, but the angle can also be set to high (ten degrees) and low (35 degrees) sensitivity. For more granular angles you need a subscription for five euros per year. I stick with the free version: with high sensitivity I feel like I’m no longer allowed to move, but with low sensitivity the alarm doesn’t go off at all. I’ll stick with the standard.

Rafi smiles contentedly

On a normal work day, I start the morning with my Airpods Pro in my ears and Posture Pal on my connected phone. In the free version, the app can only be used in sessions of a maximum of ten minutes, which can be strung together. When I start the tracking, I am surprised: I can hear something! A quiet noise comes from the Airpods, it sounds like a faucet is opening and closing again and again. If I stop Posture Pal, the noise stops – I suspect that the app’s measurement is causing the noise. Not ideal, but I just turn down the volume on my phone and the app still works. I could also listen to music while the app is running to drown out the noise.

I check my emails and after a short while I hear a sound like a small bicycle horn in my ears. It tells me to sit straight. I sit up, Rafi smiles contentedly on my display. The noise interrupts your concentration briefly, but it’s not so intrusive that it really bothers you. After the ten-minute session, the app tells me how many times it had to correct me, how long my posture was perfect, and gives me a score. First of all, 91 points out of 100 – that motivates me, I want to get better.

It would be a little more practical than on my cell phone to do all of this directly on the device I’m working on. So I’m trying out the Mac app. Nice: Here the memorial animal is shown directly on the screen, but only if the posture is bad. However, this doesn’t work reliably for me. The alarm on the MacBook sounds so inappropriately that I get the feeling that it just goes off randomly.

On the iPhone, however, Posture Pal detects well when my head tilts. However, that is also the problem with the app: it detects when my head falls forward or backward, but not what my back is doing during that time. If I sit in the typical computer working position with a bent back and a straight gaze – known as slouching in English – that doesn’t trigger the app alarm. A physiotherapist who saw me like that would certainly be alarmed. And then the resolution of better posture doesn’t help either.

Conclusion: Posture Pal looks cute, is fun and even uses iOS features such as live activities on the home screen. Just the idea of using headphones to improve your posture is nice . The reminder for keeping your head upright is a bit useful , but I would doubt whether it can lead to better posture and less back pain in the long term.

Price: Free for a maximum of ten-minute sessions (which can be restarted again and again). For five euros per year, the time limit can be removed and the sensitivity can be adjusted in more detail. In addition, instead of Rafi the giraffe, Haru the monkey and Paca the alpaca can also be selected. They bring no advantages. But they are also very sweet.

Transparency note: The author independently selected the app described in the article at his own discretion and tested it according to professional criteria.

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