Phase I: Collecting Data

It’s been a month now since I have decided to track my physical activities and sleep patterns, using a Jawbone UP24 band. I wanted to see which sort of information a device like that is able to capture and why these fitness bands are extremely popular at the moment… Well I still have to figure out how to answer this question but I can say for sure that the platform (mobile app + arm band) didn’t really motivate me enough to keep on using it.

This experiment tho it’s been a great finding for my research, I will definitely need to figure out how to motivate people to keep on using whatever I’ll come up with or it’ll just end up being another app sitting in someone’s phone (or, hopefully, smartwatch) that won’t do much more than keep on collecting data and sending it to a server, somewhere in the cloud. Here are some of the major issues I had with UP:

It tracks your sleep, but what can you actually do with that data?

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It tracks your steps… Ehm… Not really, it tracks every (or almost) movement of your arm. Now I know I move my left arm about 15000 times a day, I accumulate heaps of steps while cooking, coding, showering…! However, stripping off about 7000 steps a day, it becomes sort of accurate. The app tells you when your peaks of motion are and it’s fairly easy to find a pattern over a week – walk to work, walk to lunch, walk back to work, walk back home.

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This looked like it was going to be an exciting and interesting feature, but apart from telling you how many calories you burn during those walks (which are probably not exactly accurate, because it doesn’t have any GPS module and doesn’t know whether I’m climbing a hill under the 30° of Queensland sun or walking in a mall…) it also supports user input for various sport activities. Interesting feature, which has been terribly designed in the app and it’s pretty hard to find (about 4 clicks through the interface) – I gave up after a couple of times.

Oh, it also tracks your mood. Based on self reporting, you should remember to input every morning if you’re feeling Good, Energized, Depressed and so on… But that’s certainly not something that everyone would remember to do in the morning… So I ended up not doing it anymore after the first week…

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And, last but not least, it tracks intake calories. At every meal, you should tell the app what you’ve just had and it’ll automatically try to calculate how many calories were in your food and how distributed (in terms of carbs, proteins, etc…) your meal was. This is probably one of the most useful features of the app, especially if you’re on a controlled diet.

It’s an interesting experiment, especially rolling back in time and seeing what happened on specific days. It makes you feel like you should follow some patterns so that you can then compare them over time… But on the other side it doesn’t exactly give you any info on how you could do better – there are some tiny notes that are related to your lifestyle in the app, but I have only received four, and they never changed over time. It also allows your analyse your trends, which can be useful if the band was a little bit more reliable as it could be interesting to see how physical activity changes between days where you get long sleeps and days when you don’t, or something like that…

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There’s, however, an interesting aspect related to the data I have collected: it is stored somewhere and can be access using the Jawbone API. I believe that way is possible to kind of filter out “fake” steps and see what the actual walking / exercising patterns are and probably generate some reports that’ll help the user to engage in a more active lifestyle.

I would be curious to find out more about your experiences with Jawbone or Fitbit or other similar devices, feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to :)

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