Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Wearable Computing wagon

Few decades ago, humans were walking inside of computers, now we are carrying them with us in our packets. In the near future, they will be inside our body and will be doing what we did to them few decades ago. Monitoring our vital signs and fixing broken parts in our body. One step towards that future is “Activity Trackers”. Activity trackers track your physical activities such as walking and climbing stairs and how well you sleep.

There are several companies selling trackers. Nike sells Fuel, Jawbone sells UP, Fitbit sells Flex and One, Withings sells Pulse, BodyMedia has Wireless LINK Armband and iHealth has Wireless Activity and Sleep Tracker.

Broadly you can classify them into two different categories,

  • Wrist/arm band. They look like watches and have some or no display.
  • Hip tracker. These devices look very similar to a USB memory stick. Most of them can be converted into wristbands at nighttime to track sleep. They usually have better display than wrist/arm band trackers.

I have to pick one, Who said more choices are better? Here is how I narrowed it down.

  • Design & Usability: Whether I am going to wear it on my wrist/arm, or keep it on my packet and not visible to others, I wanted something that feels well designed and sleek. This eliminated BodyMedia and iHealth because both of them are bulky even though BodyMedia claims it is clinically proven. I want apps that perform well and looks clean and easy to use.
  • One App: I wanted a wireless scale and activity tracker. Fitbit, Withings and iHealth are the three companies that sell tracker and scale. I could have used apps like RunKeeper or My Fitness Pal to combine scale and activity tracking, it didn’t feel native or natural to me.
  • Connectivity: These devices had minimal display or no display at all. You have to consume the information and analysis somewhere else like mobile phone, tablets or computers. I didn’t want to be responsible for transferring data for obvious reason. Jawbone Up has no wireless connectivity, you have to plug it into audio jack to transfer data. Fitbit Flex has BLE[Bluetooth Low Energy] connectivity. Only few mobile phones and tables supports this. Go here to see for the full list of Fitbit supported devices. Withings Pulse seems like it can connect to most of the moderns devices with Bluetooth 2.0.
  • Display: I want some feedback if I am going to use this for the whole day. Nike Fuel and Withings Pulse and Fitbit One has some nicer displays. Both Withings Pulse and Fitbit One can display number of steps taken and stairs climbed. When it comes to wrist band trackers, Nike Fuel has better display than Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP. Fuel can display time and steps count, Flex has 5 lights and UP has no display at all.

For me it came down to Fitbit Flex, One or Withings Pulse. Withings Pulse wasn’t available couple of weeks ago. So it was Flex or One. Fitbit One has several advantages, superior display, can count number of stairs climbed and belief is that hip trackers like Fitbit One are more accurate because they sit in your hip not on your wrist which can have some false positives. I chose Fitbit Flex for these two reasons,

  • Flex is all in one device for activity tracking and sleep tracking. Fitbit One needs a separate band for sleep tracking. Flex offered less friction and less work.
  • Searching misplaced stuff is part of my day and I didn’t want one more thing to search. Flex can stay with my wrist day or night. Only time I take off is when I get into shower.

Links that helped me,

Check back later for my review of Fitbit Flex and Aria.