With Fuelband, Nike Aims To Crush Jawbone Up And Overhaul Nike+

The Nike Fuelband cracks the problem of tracking your fitness, and is the beginning of a brand-new paradigm for the Nike+ franchise.

Last week, Nike unwrapped a project it has been working on for two years, and which will go on sale next month: Nike Fuelband, a rubber wristband that aims to track your every move, and how active you’ve been throughout the day. If that sounds both a little bit awesome and a little bit suspect, we’re with you: We reported on Jawbone’s ballyhooed attempt to create something just like that. And we also reported the massive shortcomings of the device they produced.

But Nike may have cracked the nut. While we haven’t yet had a chance to test it out, we have had a hands-on demo. And from that, it’s pretty clear that Nike Fuelband is a masterful example of UX design. Point by point, it fixes all of Jawbone Up’s problems. It’s an object lesson for anyone looking to design any sort of interactive experience.

Creating a Fitness Index

The Fuelband doesn’t rely on too much unusual tech: It’s simply a wristband that tracks your movement, linked to an iPhone app. Throughout the day, it uses an LED display on the band itself to show your progress on a fitness index called Nike Fuel. The index itself is the product of some ingenious synthesis.

Its main brain is a 3-axis accelerometer in the wristband. And that’s where it gets interesting. From there, algorithms work to classify every type of movement you make, whether it’s walking up stairs, running, or even playing basketball or skateboarding. Each activity gets a multiplier, so if you spend an hour playing basketball, that hour gives you more Fuel points. Likewise, if you take the stairs versus the elevator, you get more Fuel. (All of that behavior was programmed into the wristband’s intelligence, after having been modeled in Nike’s performance labs while test subjects were being tested for cardiovascular exertion.)

The bottom line is that the wristband isn’t just a step counter or even a calorie counter. "We wanted to create a universal currency, so that you always get credit and are aware of how active you are," says Ricky Engelberg, Nike+'s director of user experience. "It’s not about reps or laps. This an index of everything you do." Thus, no matter if you ran one day or played tennis another, the idea is that Fuel will be a universal currency allowing you to see how much you’re progressing towards a bigger goal: physical fitness, rather than just exercise or working out.


[Everything counts in large and small amounts, as this spot shows.]

It’s All About Feedback

We came down hard on Jawbone Up for not having real-time feedback—and the fact that, without it, you can’t have an ambient, consistent dialogue with the device. How can it always make you a little bit better if you have to take it off and plug it in every time you want to check how you’re doing?

The Fuelband fixes that problem with a simple LED readout right on the band which shows you how much Fuel you’ve earned and how close you are to your daily goal. (It also shows the time and how many calories you’ve burned.) But if you want to look at your performance with a little more depth, your iPhone app is being constantly synched with your band, so that you can see a chart of your activity levels throughout the day.

Jawbone Up had neither of those features, apparently because of battery limitations. But the Nike Fuelband solves that with some novel industrial engineering: Look at the inside edge, and you can see two panels that curve with the band. Those are curved lithium-ion batteries, some of the first ever invented. Another great detail: The designers labored to make it so that the Fuel readout is only legible to you. Thus, you won’t be drawing quizzical stares when people see it light up from halfway across the room, and your goals stay personal.

To be clear, the actual wristband itself isn’t as finely done as the Jawbone Up. Where the latter has a unique, textured form, the Fuelband is refined but boring. It doesn’t look or feel all that special on your wrist. But the user experience is far better: During the day, you can constantly check in with it. That one detail makes the Fuelband not only a gadget, but a game. It means it’s far more likely to nudge your behavior ever so slightly—by say, encouraging you to walk instead of taking the subway, or showing you how far behind you’ve gotten on your goal after watching football for four hours. "It’s about tiny behavior changes," says Engelberg. "Over a week and a month and a year, it adds up."

To build in even more motivation, the band and app register streaks—the number of days you’ve hit your goal. The app also allows you to share your goals and streaks via Facebook and Twitter.

Reinventing an Ecosystem

The Fuelband has some keen limitations: Because it lives on your wrist, it can’t really track anything that doesn’t require you to move your arms. Thus, it can’t track bicycling. Meanwhile, it’s water resistant, but not enough to swim with.

But Nike has a reasonable response to those problems. The Fuelband is actually only one element in their plan to overhaul the entire Nike+ line. "Every Nike+ product will soon earn you fuel," says Engelberg. In the coming months, all of their various pedometers and heart-rate monitors will start to spit out Fuel scores, which you can tabulate online.

The most obvious limitation is the online aspect: You’re not tracking those Fuel scores on the Fuelband app. But we’re betting it’s only a matter of time before a heart-rate monitor, for example, has a Bluetooth chip, which will mean that you’ll have one single place for tracking almost everything you do.

[Top image: Stefan Olander, Nike’s VP of digital sport, unveiling the Fuelband last week in New York]

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41 Comments

  • Texastigers

    "While we haven’t yet had a chance to test it out, ..."

    How lame. After that admission, I stopped reading.

  • William D

    I agree. I continued reading, but it read like an infomercial. Im trying to decided what to do, but I fail to see how FuelBand can have any idea how much i should do if i eat a lettec or a bag of crisps, it changes everything.

    It's suave in the sense it goes with teh sports image, and looks glitzy, but i'm more tempted by something more wellbeing related than 'sport centric' per sae.

  • Joe

    I'd like to use this for crossfit, but it doesn't seem like it would work.  Sure it can know how fast your hands or feet are moving, but what about the additional weight you may be lifting.  For instance, the Nike Fuelband will think that I'm burning the same amount of calories when snatching 50# or 150#, right?  Is there any device that can account for a dynamic exercise routine like crossfit or weightlifting, without change the settings between every exercise?

  • Eugene Joubert

    Fuelband = Awesome, the only problem I have found is that the Nike Fuel generated on my Fuelband can't be used on the Nike + Active website. I can only use the Nike Fuel generated on my iPod Nano on that website. Apparently it's because the Nano uses a different metric to generate Nike Fuel than the Fuelband. Something I hope they sort out. They talk about it in the form of currency, if I'm generating the same currency I should be able to use it across all the websites no matter what medium I use to generate the currency, the currency is still the same. Hopefully it will all be streamlined and standardized across all the featured websites when they roll out the new site in June. I think Nike is revolutionizing tech and sports with what they're doing here. I've never been so motivated to move in my life!!

  • Jack S.

    I won a Fuelband during SxSW in Austin. I'm not much into exercising, but I'm very active since I don't own a car and bike and walk everywhere. I was pretty dubious about how much I would get out of this band since mostly I'm on my bike when I'm active. But it's proved to be a pretty enjoyable device. Last week I used it while lobbying during the National Bike Summit, and it was cool to have a record that I walked over 10 miles around the U.S. Capitol grounds. And I have found that it somehow does add up fuel while I'm on the bike - though how accurate it is I have no idea. Aside from all that, it's a decent-looking wristwach, something I never wear but I don't mind having this on my wrist. 

  • Matthew Speak

    I have a huge interview next week and I'm using Nike FB as game-changing innovation. Would anyone know if consumer insight was used for this product - an obvious question I would think, but it would be good to know. 

    Cheers, Matthew.

  • Fattymallen

    I don't wanna wear anything on my wrist while i sleep, the fuel thing is gonna motivate me daily until i'm fully active

  • Kevin

    Doesn't appear to have sleep features like the UP, so this thing already fails before release.   I'll wait for Jawbone to fix their UP problems.

  • JudyJB

    So how accurate is algorithm that uses normal calcs for metabolic rates when the individual has super slow metabolism?

  • Bob Finch

    Since Fuelband does not track sleep cycles like the Jawbone Up does, I think a lot of people will get more benefit out of the Up. Now, I would not have been able to write that had I not experienced the benefits of sleep tracking and had I not happened to get my Up as a gift just a week before having a formal sleep study done. Those of us approaching middle age certainly will get more out of the Up than we will the Fuelband.

    My Up sleep-tracking results, while obviously not as detailed as those provided after being all wired up in a clinic, proved to me that the Up can be a reasonable proxy and augmenter for such studies, especially for those of us who need to clean up our "sleep hygiene," which is equally important as tracking daily activity. The big idea here is that if your sleep hygiene is poor, it's less likely that you'll actually meet your exercise goals.  A side benefit is that the UP is giving me daily input as to how well my course of therapy for apnea is working. It is telling me that I'm getting more deep sleep than I was before starting apnea therapy, which will likely make me stick with the therapy.

    The other great sleep-related thing - and maybe the best thing for those of us with hectic schedules - is that Up's alarm wakes users within a half-hour of their desired wake times by gently vibrating on and off until it is switched out of sleep mode. It's a heck of a lot better than being annoyed by an alarm clock.  I don't know how the Up does it, but it seems to almost always wake me when I'm in my lightest sleep phase; thus, I'm more easily aroused into a state of being fully awake.  I also awake far more refreshed, and that carries over into the rest of my day. There's no more zombie-walking to the coffee maker for me any more.  I still love my Joe, but isn't always the first thing on my mind.

    The combination of gently nudging me to workout (or at least get up from behind the desk and move around at regular intervals), showing me my normal activity patterns while giving me reason to alter them for health benefits and its slick sleep-monitoring has already changed my life.  I just feel better.  A one-trick pony like Fuel Band will ever replace my Up.

    My only criticism of the Up is that I'm not particularly fond of its food tracking (I don't use it), but I suspect that Jawbone will improve this weakness over time as upgrades to the iPhone app come along.

  • Pat

    Have been using the Fitbit for over a year and it is great!  Very unobtrusive, tracks all movements, including sleep patterns!  Daily data is viewable at any time on the Fitbit, and is uploaded to your profile on the web.
    In addition to the web based tracking program, they also have a regular mobile app and iPhone/iPad specific app to enter your data.
    Really great product!

  • Guest

    wanna use it while cycling? what happens if you----strap it to your spokes
    so it goes round and round and round and round.....or to your ankle and it goes...round and round and round and round?????