The Jawbone UP fitness band was released in late 2011. It was a 24/7 fitness device to track activity, sleep, and even your diet. It could have been gadget of the year. Instead, it was pulled from the market within a month due to its fragility. Now re-engineered with 3 million hours of field testing under its belt, the Jawbone UP returns to the market. But the world had changed in its absence. The Nike+ Fuelband happened.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been wearing UP everywhere I go: A wedding. A funeral. A road trip. A Thanksgiving feast. A few visits to the gym and more than one couch-laden gaming marathon. And what I’ve found is that UP is a far more ambitious device than the Fuelband, but it gets one crucial design detail—the most important detail, in fact—wrong.
UP is a tasteful, tire-like band that sits on your wrist. And while it may serve as a mnemonic device to remind you to exercise more or eat better, it’s, at the end of the day, ostensibly a chunk of dead rubber hanging on your person.
When I click a button on my Fuelband, I instantly see one number that summarizes my activity. To do the same thing on UP, I need to remove a cap on the band, plug it into my iPhone via the headphone jack (an ingenious if flawed idea), sync it with the app, then scroll through that app to find out how I’m doing. Maybe that workflow sounds petty, but in practice, it’s a pocket digging, don’t-drop-that-cap, repetitious labor that deters you from checking in on your health.
I understand why Jawbone made this design decision; they want you to interact with your powerful phone, not the wattage-sipping band. Their app, which feels just as approachable as Twitter and as potentially overwhelming as Facebook, enables all sorts of complex, personalized data analysis that’s so much deeper than the Fuelband. I can check how long I was in deep vs. light sleep last night. I can enter what I’ve eaten today to see the grams of fiber I’ve consumed. I can view, not just the calories I’ve burned, but how many of those calories were from my resting rate vs. activity. And I can even see my activity and sleep trends over days, months, or a year.
UP digs deep, but in doing so, it forgoes the superficial instant-gratification that I need. More and more over the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself, why is UP a wristband in the first place? What is it doing to earn a place on my body? Certainly, UP reminds me all the time to be healthy. But it also snags in the sleeve every time I put on my jacket, and it’s a touch too casual for a suit. A FitBit would hide in my pocket.
However, the thrilling part about UP is that it’s so close to being so much better. Undoubtedly, the engineers at Jawbone have a Bluetooth-enabled version running in lab somewhere. And assuming they get the battery situation figured out, this version could be in constant contact with your phone, not only removing the whole plug scenario, but enabling push notifications and other real-time second-screen content.
The app is already doing some smart things that would marry perfectly with real-time notifications. Jawbone hired writers that teamed up with data analysts to pen actionable tips. For instance, if you’ve consumed a lot of calories in a day and not had much activity, the app may actually advise you to go for a walk after dinner.
My experience with these tips was admittedly less helpful (being advised to get more sleep when you wake up tired is just salt in the wound), but the potential is undeniable. Whereas Nike simplified activity to one abstract number, Jawbone could go a step further: Jawbone could simplify your activity to what you should be doing, right now. It’d be big data mixed with casual, constant personal training.
For what it’s worth, I’m wearing UP right now while my trusty Fuelband sits on my desk, looking sad. I’m still smitten by the Fuelband’s display, but without a clasp, UP is more comfortable to type with, and wearing two bands at once just feels silly. In their current incarnations, I consider the Fuelband a lifestyle device (promoting that you go out and live your life) and UP a health device (asking that you take a good deal of time every day to record your diet and focus on the complex relationships of food, exercise, and happiness). The Fuelband is certainly better realized, but UP is far more ambitious.
UP is available now for $129.