Battle of the fitness devices: Week 1

Alright folks, my new Jawbone Up, Nike FuelBand and Fitbit finally arrived. All of them claim to have similar capabilities and promise to help me reach my goals. Now it's time to put them to the test and let them duke it out as to which is the superior solution. So...welcome to the Battle of the fitness devices where I will be spending the next 6 weeks comparing these fitness devices.

My goals

1. Lose 4 pounds in 6 weeks 2. Run a 10k in March 3. Drink more water and stay continually more hydrated

Week 1

After ordering all the devices, Up was the first to arrive. Makes sense, considering their previous market disaster which forced them to pull the product off the shelves. I would expect to get the best service from them the second time around, including fast shipping. The NikeFuel band was next. And the FitBit took over 2 weeks. What's up with the wait? Not good folks.

The set up was fairly easy for all three devices. Up was extremely easy to setup. Just download the phone app, plug in the device to the phone, and go through a set of very simple instructions. Voila...ready to go. The only caveat is that you are required to take off the device and physically connect it to your phone to sync the data. A little bit annoying, but eliminating bluetooth helps reduce the size of the device and increases the battery power, which seems to last the longest compared to the others.

The FuelBand was also easy to set up. Unlike Up, which you can set up using your phone, FuelBand requires you download and install an app on your PC and install new firmware onto the device as well. After both installs, it was easy to get up and going and the wireless synching was nice once you get the device paired with your phone.  The only problem is that the bluetooth feature on your phone sucks away a bit of battery. We'll see if it's worth the convenience of wireless synching compared to Up.

Like the FuelBand, Fitbit requires you to set up using your PC. It was also very easy, although it requires an awkward additional wireless device to be attached to a USB port on your PC. So now I have to carry around the Fitbit device AND a wireless adapter on my laptop. Wireless set up was effortless on my phone, however.

Now that the devices are all up and running, it's time to set up my goals, which include losing 4 pounds and training for a 10k in March. Up and FuelBand failed miserably at this. Neither allowed me to set goals based on weight or exercise. Up makes you set goals based on steps, but doesn't make it easy for you to figure out how many steps equates to what. I had to go online and research elsewhere for that. FuelBand asked you to set your goals based on an arbitrary metric without providing much explanation around it. I get how it allows you to compare your activity to others, but I don't get how it equates to steps or calories burned and how it can help me reach my goals. Example, how does a Fuel goal of 3000 per day equate to my weight loss goal? So, I have been finding that I ignore this metric altogether and keep track of my steps instead.

The biggest gripe I have with the FuelBand is that the phone app doesn't integrate with Nikeplus running app. BIG MISTAKE considering I have a running goal. It's an opportunity loss that they don't integrate with running AND weight loss management. Instead, Nike makes you sign up for a completely different experience that is basically a glorified pedometer...a disappointment, especially since it's the most expensive device.

Also, the FuelBand is the bulkiest device with an over-sized and overly-bright LED display that aesthetically looks dated....and not in a good 80's retro way. Nike could have designed the display to be much more discreet and elegant, which would probably take up less battery power as well.

In terms of wearability, I find the FuelBand the least comfortable. It's the largest of the devices and requires you to press hard to get it to snap together. In fact, the clasp has pinched my skin a number of times and even drew blood. Ouch! Generally, I feel a bit dorky wearing it. Especially when I'm at the gym and use the giant LED display to see my steps. Come on guys, can't you be a little more discreet?

The Fitbit was the only experience that offered me to set up a weight loss goal. Once doing so, all the metrics easily related to my start weight and it made much more sense about what I needed to do to achieve my goal than, for example, an arbitrary “Fuel” metric. The Fitbit community is also much more engaging (for my needs) since you can invite friends privately and set up goals together. The other devices allow you to integrate with Facebook, but who wants to blast their data to absolutely everyone?

Fitbit provides more data visualization compared to the other devices including water intake and weight trends. However, some of the visualizations are built in flash so they don't work on apple devices. Bummer. Up's app does a nice job visualizing more detailed data including sleep patterns broken into deep and light sleep, which I find fascinating but not that useful yet.

So, how do the devices compare in week 1? I’ll be using 4 attributes to evaluate each device throughout the weeks including:

1. Wearability: comfort, style, fit, etc… 2. Capability: features, hardware & battery, syncing, etc... 3. Motivation: does it get me going, keep me going, and help me reach my goals? 4. Simplicity: understandable data, easy set up, easy to read/sync, etc…


So far, Fitbit came out of the gate the strongest. However, wearing it around makes me feel like I'm carrying a small pager. Pretty dorky. Hopefully, their new Flex might be less so. NONE of the devices helped me with my running goal. I had to use a combination of websites to make a plan and will end up tracking my progress with a good ol' pen and paper. I did already win a FuelBand badge, but i still don't know how "25k Fuel points" helps me achieve my weight loss and running goals so I wouldn't say winning it was very motivating. Cute achievement animation though that I played twice.

Stay tuned for next week as I begin collecting more data and (hopefully) inching toward my goals...


Sabine Seymour publishes a new book

I met with Sabine Seymour at the Smart Fabrics conference in Miami this year where she told me about a sequel to her highly acclaimed book 'Fashionable Technology' (Springer 2008) titled Functional Aesthetics. After the torturous wait for the book to be ready, it's finally available the end of this month! It will definitely be a requirement for every wearable technology designer's library. Pre-order it here. "Functional Aesthetics ... contains new state-of-the-art and revealing artistic and design examples focusing on the aesthetic and functional aspects. Chapters like Contextual Prerequisite, Body Sculpture, or Transparent Sustainability provide in-depth studies of often visionary projects seen as stimulation for new developments in the matured field of 'Fashionable Technology'. The book presents inspiring projects between the poles of fashion, design, technology, and sciences. It includes a list of relevant information on DIY resources, publications, inspirations, etc." continue reading.

Image from amazon.

Book review: Metamorphosis

[gallery] Italian fashion design has been at the forefront of the global fashion industry for years and remains one of the prominent drivers of Italy's economy. Elisabetta Cianfanelli and Stoffel Kuenen along with research team Roberta Baccolini, Gabriele Goretti, and Ambra Trotto have published a book titled Metamorphosis that discusses how technology will evolve the fashion industry and help establish new and innovative global markets.

After waiting 4 weeks for the book to arrive, I can finally provide some highlights...

The book begins with a manifesto that is a call-to-action for designers to focus on a user-centered design approach that considers a balance of social and virtual spheres (described below and in the book) that they say are required when integrating new technologies into fashion products that introduce new interactions.

The book begins its argument with an analysis of the history of fashion design and manufacturing processes specific to the Italian fashion "system" as they describe. "New technologies integrated into fashion will lead to a metamorphosis of meaning associated with the use of a product, offering a new way of interpreting it… based on its ability to offer various dimensions of interaction of which the user forms the center and that create an entirely [new] experience.

The fashion system [fashion design, materials, technology innovation and manufacturing processes] allows for the study of its functional, its expressive, and its communicative aspects.

The challenge lies in transforming the male, rational and cerebral image of technology and present it in a sexy, female, elegant form that [fashion] naturally creates."

The book goes on to argue that advancing technologies provide a myriad of opportunities for the fashion industry to differentiate and position itself in a global market. For example, "material technologies offer new fabrics with new properties to work with, the miniaturization of electronics offer completely new types of functions leading to new forms of expression and interaction for wearable technology designers to give form to." This makes the relationship between the culture, context and the interactions that the wearable product provides incredibly important.

The book supports this argument through a variety of wearable technology products that explore the balance of value and interaction through the understanding and realization of social and virtual spheres (as they describe them). Some examples include:

Beehugged – encouraging a society where showing mutual care and sharing become a natural (and public) habit

Cache – a fashion product meant as an expression of identity

Stir it On! – providing a sense of personal space and protection

HearWear – transforming and visualizing environmental sound levels

Climate dress – raising awareness of environmental factors we are normally unaware of

And many more...

This book is definitely worth the shipping wait and I recommend that it should be in every wearable technology designer’s library.

Go to Polistampa for € 25,60 (20% off the list price) for ordering info. For faster shipping for those of you in the states, the book is now available at

Book review: Switch Craft

For those interested in designing and developing wearables, the growing DIY culture is a great place to get your hands dirty. Alison Lewis, of Switch, published a book titled Switch Craft that includes a variety of projects that help you learn about crafting soft circuits. The projects allow you to show off, share alike, work it, and play hard. They range from simple fabric magnets that light up to plush pillows you can use to talk to your friends. Most projects use existing circuits that you hack and embed into fabrics. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Petal Shuffle This fashionable hat makes you look good while hiding away your iPod shuffle. There's not much circuitry involved since you simply sew your shuffle directly into the hat. The controls are built into the flower pedals, so you simply position the controls from your shuffle under them, which allows you to control the volume and change songs.

Pillow Talk A pillow that connects your cell phone so that you can "pillow talk" your friends to sleep. Making this looks fairly straightforward. Simply integrate headphones with a speaker input into the pillow. There is some re-wiring involved.

Lovie Circuits These are my absolute favorites! These cute little plushy companions light up when they kiss. The circuit used is a simple LED light with a battery. The wiring is sewn into the fabric to the mouth so when they touch, it completes the circuit and lights each companion up. Adorable.

Voodoodoll For the bad angel in all of us, the Voodoodoll wiggles and squirms when it's poked with a needle. The circuit is made up of a battery and a vibrating motor set. A sponge is stuffed inside the doll that is wrapped in conductive fabric. When the pin is pushed into the conductive sponge, it triggers the circuit and makes the little guy shake.

To see more of these adorable soft-circuit projects, get the book here.