Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Earlier today I was reading through an interview with FitBit CEO James Park about their recent $43 million in funding and the company's plans for spending it.  It made me think about what I'd like to see happen with their product evolution given my to-date love hate relationship with Fitbit.

First - a confession.  Like many early adopters, I got caught up in the hype around quantified-self/wearable tech when I bought the original Fitbit Ultra a few years ago.  I loved the idea of being able to track and monitor my fitness, sleep (more on that below) and (eventually) daily food intake (which rolled out much later - more on that below as well) as well as syncing my data across devices.  Imagine my surprise when, after getting the Ultra in the mail, I went to the App Store to find their app - only to discover that one wasn't available.  What?! A device without a companion app?!  How could that be?!  I immediately sent an email to their help desk looking for an answer and got the standard "we're working as hard and fast as we can on it."

So like all good early adopters I cut this start-up some slack and tried my best to interact with the Fitbit app on my desktop, but quickly found myself not doing a lot of interacting - mostly because I wasn't in front of my desktop all that much.  Then the user experience issues started piling up.  First it was the form factor of the device.  I couldn't bring myself to walk around with it clipped on the clothes or shoes, the wristband didn't fit well and looked . . . well . . . a bit odd.  I also found that the device didn't work the same way when it was in my pocket.  And then there was the sleep tracking function.  Not only was I not wearing the device to bed every night (thanks to the bothersome wristband), but on the nights that I did wear it, I kept forgetting to activate its sleep mode.  I was also confused about when to activate it - when I first get into bed?  Once I start reading?  When I'm about to fall asleep?  Eventually I lost my zest for the device and I added to my Pile of Misfit Tech Gadgets that I'd accumulated over the years -- hello Twitter Peek (gotta say I called this one back in the day), Logitech Revue, Slingbox, OnLive, Zune, WebTV - the list goes on and on.

Then I made my annual pilgrimage to CES this past January and saw Fitbit's new line up of products, including a Wi-Fi connected scale and a wristband product called the Flex - which actually made it onto a few "Best Of" lists including this one from Forbes.  My curiosity was peaked a second time - mostly because I liked the idea of a more practical wristband and also thought the scale was pretty cool (even though I still haven't bought it).  Plus by this time Fitbit had released their iPhone app so now my syncing issues were a thing of the past.  One of the things I liked most about the app was that I would be able to track my daily food intake with Fitbit as opposed to using an app from someone else.  This way, I thought, I would have a complete snapshot of my entire health profile all in one location.

Immediately I was disappointed with the food tracking functionality of the app.  I had gotten used to the experience from apps like MyFitnessPal which have much better food databases and allow you to input foods by scanning barcodes.  I was then disappointed in the Flex - not because of its wristband but because, at the end of the day, it didn't meet my ever increasing expectations for what I think a fitness tracking device should do.  At the end of the day the Flex, and most of its competitors, are nothing more than glorified pedometers.  What that means is if you are like me and most others out there, walking is not your primary form of exercise.  I like to mix it up - a little bit of swimming mixed in with boot camp/CrossFit classes with the occasional intense yoga class.  Devices like the Fitbit don't perform well for non-walking activities - so while I may not get credit for swimming 2500 yards, I will get credit for raising my arm up and down in a drinking motion (hey, there are worse things!).

So now the Flex has joined the Pile of Misfit Gadgets - and I'm back to waiting for the next great thing in quantified-self devices.  Apart from suggesting that Fitbit spend some of its money to buy something like MyFitness Pal, it would be great if they created a wearable wrist device that:

  1. Tracks all physical exertion equally well
  2. Monitors vas many body vital signs as possible 
  3. Is smart enough to go into sleep tracking mode automatically
  4. Can tell time

Sounds like what an "iWatch" could be, no?!

Would love to hear what others think of their current devices as well as how their wish list stacks up to mine.  For those of you thinking about buying a Fitbit device or something like it, I'd say hold off for now unless your main exercise is power walking . . . and only if you don't drink!


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