What it’s like wearing a fitness tracker every day

Apple’s rumored iThing is expected to be announced on September 9, along with the new iPhone. For those not following along, Apple’s rumored to be in the business of making some sort of watch/band/fitness tracker thing. Sources from the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and obvious smoke from Nike (where Apple CEO Tim Cook is a board member) shutting down and transferring Fuel Band staff to Apple.

I’ve had multiple fitness trackers over the years. I started with the original Jawbone, the one that broke and ended up in massive recalls. Then I tried a Fitbit, then back to the Jawbone UP 2.0 and now an UP 24.

I don’t like either of them, I never do anything with the data, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it or where it goes.

The hardware problems are many

The UP has long suffered from one main problem: that damn cap. The UP is a band and has an audio-jack like plug on one end covered by a cap that just snaps on. I’ve lost many over the years and the one I’m wearing as I write this is loose and often pops off.

But I keep coming back to the UP because no matter how much I struggle with the cap, it’s easier and more comfortable to wear than the Fitbit. The Fitbit devices are little teardrop shaped dinguses that you pop into a big arm sleeve at night or in a rubber clip for your belt or pants.

The Fitbit pairs nicely with my bathroom scale, but it’s difficult to remember and transfer. It’s like a Tamigatchi pet that constantly wants to die.

The arm band is velcro and gets covered in hair, dust, and other household stuff. And since I work from home, I sometimes don’t wear pants with loops. I usually wear comfy shorts or elastic something or others and the rubber dingus doesn’t play well with them.

Hence why I wear the UP. You just put it on and leave it on save for a shower or some other really rough exercise. I don’t wear it when I volunteer at the local Humane Society, for instance, because it’s too easy for a dog to grab onto or catch with a paw when jumping.

Apple’s iThing has some big problems to solve

So it’s with great anticipation that I want to know what Apple’s working on. I’m not very excited by it, but if it solves some problems I didn’t know I had and some ones I know I have, then I’m interested.

Namely, what do I do with the data? I’ve been wearing my UP every day for months and months (years?) now and I don’t really know what to do with the data. The software it syncs to on my phone gives me some nuggets of data, like that I tend to sleep enough hours, but I don’t get enough deep sleep (it called me a 45 year old man the other day). I exercise regularly, but I can’t figure out any way to extrapolate out in any useful way what my activity is like in the summer vs. the winters, for example.

Plus, all the data seems “stuck” in my phone, which unlike some people, I just don’t want to dick around with. I want to export that out or have it sync to a web app so I can see it at my desk, share it with people easier, and maybe some people could use it to help people diagnose health issues.

But the UP and Fitbit don’t really capture much about you except what you *do*. Which can be easily tracked just by looking at most people. “Clearly you exercise and you don’t.” I don’t need to wear a dingus to tell me that I’m active, but not a gym rat.

My hopes are for a device that work smart and do a few things really well:

  • Gathers data from a variety of sensors, not just steps
  • Make nutrition reporting much easier than me figuring out what all is in a casserole. Detect the effects of the food, like sodium, blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Then people would know to put down the Ramen.
  • Intelligently show me data so I can make more informed decisions. UP and Fitbit are like cheerleaders telling me to go exercise when I have work to do in the middle of the day. Instead, tell me the facts, like, “Your blood pressure tends to drop 10% after a 20 minute walk and you’re a little high right now.”
  • Let me share that data with people that actually need it, not “Justin just completed a 40 minute bike ride” on Facebook. If I had every bike ride logged to Facebook and Twitter that’s all anyone would see of me. Instead, let people share it with doctors and healthcare providers.
  • Make sure the hardware is extremely durable. No moving parts, clips, removable pieces, etc.
  • Make sure I can wear it fashionably all the time and in sizes that work well — I have a small wrist, which is why I’ve never worn any of Fitbit’s band-style models.
  • Pair with information it already knows about me. Like, “You have an appointment in 40 minutes. It’ll take you 20 minutes to walk there and it’s a nice day out. You should walk instead of driving.” My phone already knows the weather, my schedule, and my location, so a band should be able to know that and pair up the necessary data.
  • Be more intelligent about activity. The UP and Fitbit both just seem like dumb pedometers. When I tell it I’m doing an activity, like biking, it falls all over itself despite having the features baked into the software. UP routinely says, “You walked 8 miles” when, no, I walked 1 and biked 20. I can’t really trust the calorie burn information it gives me as a result.

We’ll see in a couple weeks whether any of this comes true.

About the author

Justin Harter

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