Archive for September, 2012

Finding a place for a Fitbit

September 21, 2012 5 comments

In celebration of my Fitbit Ultra eight-month anniversary—four months in Colorado, four in Virginia—I wanted to capture my motivations and experiences with it.

me and my fitbit

Me and my Fitbit (not a recommended carrying place).

A Fitbit combines an accelerometer, an altimeter, and Wi-fi access to collect data on step count and floors climbed, then it calculates information like miles traveled and calories burned. There’s a sleep monitoring mode that tracks how well you sleep, which I used enough to learn that I sleep pretty soundly. You can also log things like workouts, biking, and meals to help track calories, which I’ve not felt the need to do (beyond trying it out).

The Fitbit web site provides several views of your data, defaulting to your daily info but allowing you to focus on any continuous set of days. They show cute little badges for reaching nice round numbers, like 25,000 steps in a day and 8,000 floors in a lifetime of fitbiting. And they have some calculated stats that I don’t quite understand–like active score??? There’s a social component to Fitbit as well—they allow you to connect to friends via Facebook and other social networking tools to compare step counts. Of course, any time there’s a social component, there are opportunities for a little too much sharing. Unfortunately, after their too-much-sharing scandal, Fitbit has shifted too far in the other direction, restricting some of the more useful social networking aspects like mileage and floor count leaderboards, alas.

To maintain my usability engineer cred, I’ve gotta point out a few weaknesses. Their tracking page isn’t the best example of web creation out there. Actions like looking at the step count for a previous day and switching to a week view require reloading the entire page—time consuming given their slow servers and unnecessary given that most of the information on the page is repeated. And selecting date ranges (i.e., to view step count for the last n days) is a bit awkward from an interface design perspective. Their mobile app for Android is even worse; it leaves out lots of the info I want, and since the Fitbit’s Wi-fi capabilities only syncs with the base station (though soon that will change!), I don’t see the motivation for using their mobile interface as it is. Any time Team Fitbit wants to sign up for some usability engineering advice, I’d be happy to oblige for the right price!

8 months of Fitbit step counts

My eight month step count–the first four in sunny Boulder while on sabbatical, the next four in not-as-sunny Blacksburg post-sabbatical.

The positive encouragement from my Fitbit is definitely a good thing—it certainly pushes me to walk instead of drive, to take that last walk in the evening when my step count is low. And it’s nice to be able to see how my activity levels have dropped since moving from sunny Boulder to variable-weather Blacksburg. But there are some negatives as well. After my first Fitbit broke in late February, I lost motivation even to do things I otherwise would have done. And alas, it took over three days to get a response to the web problem report I submitted about my Fitbit. They posted on the submission site that it would take a while due to post-holiday traffic…but what holiday is that? Christmas 2 months previously? Valentine’s Day? (Not sure about the message you’re sending if you give your true love a Fitbit for V-day.) The good news was that once they isolated the problem as a hardware one (a flaky altimeter), they shipped out a new Fitbit free of charge.

In all, I’m pretty happy with my Fitbit, and probably hooked to the point that I might get this new Fitbit One when it comes out (or when mine craps out). I’m not as interested in their cheaper Fitbit Zip since they left out the altimeter. And I don’t see a need to buy their scale or other products. But overall, they seem to have plugged into some good ideas, well worth the somewhat steep price tag.