Wearable Health

For a few years now I have “worn” a Fitbit One (carried in a pocket at least) most days. Relatively recently, my Pebble Time Steel watch added step tracking too. So, now I am typically wearing two devices that track my daily steps. Comparing them provides some interesting differences.

In a typical week, the Pebble tends to read slightly higher than the Fitbit, mostly because I wear it all night for the sleep tracking feature (sleep tracking is a whole separate article), so it captures anywhere up to 1000 extra steps that the Fitbit misses while I am not wearing it. 

Los Angeles Vacation 

Last week I was on vacation in LA with my family. The week consisted of a few different types of days that really highlight some of the differences. 

Here is the Pebble Health view of the week in Los Angeles:

That’s a pretty consistent number of daily steps. Monday an Friday we were at Disneyland & Disney California Adventure respectively, and we walked a lot. Tuesday through Thursday we were at the Great Wolf Lodge, and spent a lot of time in their indoor water park. While that involved some walking, it certainly didn’t feel anywhere close to the Disney park days. (The Sunday at the start & Saturday at the end were spent driving there & back, but we made several stops.)

The Fitbit captured a very different view of the week:

The most obvious difference is the much higher values for Monday and Friday, but also notice Tuesday through Thursday are lower on the Fitbit. 

Why the Differences?

The three days with low numbers while at the water park hotel are the easiest to explain: the Fitbit One is not waterproof, so it spent all the time we were in the pool areas locked in our hotel room. So, all the walking between pools and around the pools with the kids were missed. The Pebble is waterproof and I wore it the entire time we were in the pool. Not being waterproof is, in my opinion at least, a big limitation for a health tracking device. It is also pretty important for a watch!

The huge discrepancy on the Disney days might have had me puzzled if I hadn’t seen this before. The Fitbit is in my pocket, but the Pebble is on my wrist. While we were at Disney we had a stroller for our two year old and for some of the time each day I was pushing her around in it. Anchoring my wrist. I have seen this before with strollers as well as shopping carts. It seems to be a limitation of wrist worn step trackers.

Regular Weeks

On regular weeks, the differences are mostly irrelevant though. Here is the Pebble’s view of this week:

And the Fitbit saw this:

The first three days of this week have been regular commute days for me, walking between home/office and either the ferry terminal or bus stop. Tuesday I took the bus in to work (the bus terminal in SF is much closer to our office than the ferry terminal). 

Nike Fuelband vs Fitbit One

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).

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