My wife got a new Nike Fuelband for Christmas and after a bit of a struggle getting it set up, is wearing it daily to track her activity. Inspired by this, and by seeing other recipients of similar gadgets on app.net, I decided to look into getting something I could try. I ended up selecting the Fitbit One. This is my initial reaction to both devices, and the concept of gamified health tracking.
A relatively new word, but far from a new concept, gamification seems to be everywhere these days. Tracking your daily activity is one of those things that after a day or so would simply become a task. Adding an abstract notion of score (such as Nike's Fuel values) and daily goals to reach or beat, turns this routine activity into something of a game. Add a social aspect to share your success with your friends online, or challenge each other to reach the highest score, and you have the motivation that many find lacking in just turning up to the gym a few times a week.
Health tracking applications are also popular right now. Bravo's recent “reality” show about Silicon Valley startups featured two applications in this space (one an app for predicting life expectancy and adjusting it based on your lifestyle, the other a motivation app pairing you with a mentor to keep you on track). In many ways, gadgets like the Fuelband and the Fitbit are doing similar things via their activity scoring and social sharing (motivation).
The Nike Fuelband comes in Apple-esque packaging, complete with the band, and extension for the strap (you choose small, medium or large to start with) & the tool to fit it and a custom USB cable.
Setting up involves downloading an app from their website and connecting the device to your computer. That app will read the device's info and then open a browser for you to create a Nike+ account or sign in to your existing one. And this is where the problems started. Making it worse, the device will do nothing until you have completed this step.
The evening we started the process (several days after Christmas), the website refused to let my wife sign in to her account, and we saw various server errors, timeouts and even a scheduled maintenance page (the worst example of this I have ever seen). Even the password reminder page was throwing error messages. The next morning things were only slightly better; the site still wouldn't let us sign in to the account.
Online at their Twitter support page, I was told to try clearing my browser's cookies, trying a different network (yes, they really suggested that), and even installing a different browser as my default browser. In the end I asked for a phone number for some real technical support folks as these suggestions were getting us nowhere. Not once did they ask for the account we were trying to sign in with.
Phone support found the issue immediately, though fixing it was less simple. Turns out my wife's account was an old account (she had created it a few years ago when she borrowed an earlier Nike device to monitor her running), and it was missing a screen name attribute. Properly designed software would have let her sign in and then made her update her account info. Nike's software though chose to just refuse to let her log in.
Packaging for the One is more conventional. In the box there is the device itself, a wrist strap for the sleep activity mode, a charging cable and a wireless USB dongle for connecting to your computer. Not sure why the built in Bluetooth on my MBP was not usable, but it really did need the dongle.
After plugging in the dongle, setup was a breeze. Much, much simpler than the Nike process. Download the app, install it, turn on the Fitbit and run the app. The rest was painless and setup was done in under a minute.
Should also be noted that the device was immediately counting steps etc out of the box. It was not dependent on being setup to become operational. That's great news if you pick up the device while away from your computer and want to get started immediately.
The one omission in the design I can immediately see is that it desperately needs a small hole somewhere to attach a tether cord to; I am going to be forever worried about losing it (actually, I am probably going to add a tether cord to the clip at least and pray that the device stays in there securely even after being removed every night for the sleep tracking mode.
Both devices have iOS applications that pair to the device over Bluetooth and can sync the data from the device to your phone and also up into the online services associated with them.
The Nike app is the clear winner in terms of looks, showing a beautiful fuel gauge as the main screen, with the other data collected for the day under it. It is also able to monitor the band live (so you could watch your workout on your phone's screen for example). I can't see a way to get the data from the Fitbit to stream live. The Fitbit app is much more basic looking, but every bit as functional, and also provides historic graph data and access to food, water and weight records if you want that.
The Fitbit app is also small; the Nike app is huge (it actually exceeded the 50MB cellular download limit and had to downloaded over Wi-Fi – something that is normally only a problem for the most complex games). Both achieve their primary goal of syncing the information from the device to your phone and to the web service. The Fitbit one is perhaps a little more important since the device is less accessible (recommended places to carry it are clipped on the inside of a pocket, or on your bra strap (if you wear one!); the fuel band is on your wrist and immediately accessible without the phone app.
I was disappointed that the Fitbit app did not include all the information that is available from the device's own screen though. In particular, distance and the motivational “flower” are not shown in the app as far as I can see.
The Fitbit application did include integration to their scales, as well as manual entry if weight (handy if you are using this for weight loss), as well as a way to track what you eat and drink and report on calories as well as tracking you against a maximum intake to achieve a weight loss goal. Nothing like this is integrated into the Nike application as far as I can see.
Both my wife and I have questions about the accuracy of the counters. The Fuelband tracks less things (essentially just steps), but she has been skeptical of its accuracy, particularly in things like rejecting false steps while in a car or sitting down. Being on your wrist it seems more prone to those sorts of problems than the Fitbit.
The Fitbit is not without accuracy issues though. Today I had climbed 5 floors before leaving the house according to the Fitbit. In reality, I had not climbed even one step (I had descended one floor to leave home). By lunchtime I had exceeded the goal of 10 floors in a day, although by my reckoning at most I had climbed 4, so the floor counting seems to be terribly inaccurate. Perhaps that is why the Fuelband doesn't do that!
Even the step counting on the Fitbit is suspect though. With it in the wrist band for sleep tracking, and the sleep mode enabled, I still manage to accumulate over 500 “steps” while sleeping. Unless it is tracking the steps I take in my dreams…
Both have motivational tools built in as well. For the Fuelband, the motivation is to get the fuel gauge from red to green. For the Fitbit, there is a flower growing on the device's screen. It does seem like more of an afterthought though; unlike the Fuelband that has a dedicated display for the fuel gauge, visible no matter what metric you're viewing, the Fitbit has the flower as one of the metric display options. It is also absent from the iOS app, so unless you pull the device from your pocket and cycle through all the stats to show it, or log in to the website, you won't see it.
Reaching your goal gets you appropriate messages and/or badges in both apps. Both devices have options to share your progress with your social circle as well as linking to friends with the same devices for further motivation.
Applications & Extensions
The Fitbit also has the option to link with other third party applications. There is a small collection of apps that are listed on their website already, and I also found a few more that had support for the Fitbit data but for some reason were not included in the app list.
As far as I can see there is no public API for the Fuelband, and no third party apps available that can use the data in alternative ways. I have found one app that uses Twitter DMs to essentially get your stats out of Nike's database and into the Fitbit one, so I assume others could use this same trick to get access to Nike data. Still, and API would be better!