October 7, 2014

The UP24
Benefits of the fitness band

I’ve been wearing Jawbone’s fitness tracker UP24 for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been an enlightening experience. First of all, this thing is bulky compared to the rock n’ roll bracelets I wear from time to time, but that didn’t stop it from being completely forgotten after a few hours. It’s the design, which not only makes it blend in with whatever clothing you wear, or said bracelets for that matter. The only thing that’d look weird with this thing is a classy watch, but then again you’ve got two wrists, right?

In all seriousness, I’m impressed by this thing. The UP24 really does blend in, and it’s not as annoying as a lot of jewelry can be. The wavy decoration on the UP24 makes it look a little more exciting, without being extravagant, assuming you didn’t go with one of the garish colors. Which look nice too, I’ll have to add, although I prefer the black one. I’m a bit surprised by the size of this thing though, as in girth, because I’m wearing the large one, and my wrists aren’t exactly thick as logs. My less than slender father tried it on while I visited, and it did fit, but it looked ridiculously strained, clearly not meant for such a wrist. Weird thing that, the sizing, but then again I guess it makes sense to not make fitness bands tailored to larger people as, I’m sure some marketer deduced, they’re less likely to buy a fitness band in the first place. Nevermind that they might be a great target audience for a product such as this.

But I digress. The experience’s been interesting, and I’m getting to that. First I have to point out that you can, assuming you’ve got a modern iPhone with iOS 8, try out the UP app yourself, sans actual UP24 device. Connect it to the Health app to get a nice overview of the data the UP app collects. The app is decent, excellent compared to the Fitbit app, but far from as good as it should be. Coming from (now Facebook owned) Moves, I miss seeing my walk on a map, but other than that UP gives me more information. Which is to say I get steps and sleep overview, should I decide to sleep wearing the UP24.

That’s the interesting part actually, sleep that is. I’m not a morning person. You might even say I’m not a person at all in the mornings. I turn off alarms in my sleep, I snooze gadgets to death, and I’ve got a black belt in going back to sleep despite nuclear missiles going haywire in my kitchen. In other words, I’ve got issues with the part of leaving bed early.

The UP24 fixed that.

The UP24
The UP24

I had to put that in its own paragraph, because it still amazes me. Sure, I’m not exactly bouncing out of bed at dawn, but I get up at a decent hour, and it’s all thanks to the UP24. I set an alarm (two actually, just in case, but I’ve yet to have to use the second one) and then I let the UP24 decide when to wake me up, which could be up to 20 minutes earlier, assuming it thinks that’s better. What it does is that it figures out when I’m in deep sleep, and when I’m close to waking up. If the latter occurs in the general vicinity of the time I need to get up, the UP24 band vibrates and I wake up.

It’s amazing, because so far I’ve gotten out of bed earlier every single weekday, and most weekends (assuming I set an alarm). I can’t even begin to explain how baffled I am over this.

The band failed me once, and that’s a fault of its bulky design. I managed to sleep on my arm, and thus the band, in such a fashion that my arm, or the lower part of it anyway, fell asleep. That stopped me from feeling the vibrations, and I slept on. A less bulky band’ll remedy this, but it’d have to be pretty slick to eliminate the risk altogether, at least for me, who’s somewhat used to waking up at night wondering where the hell my arms are and why they’re not obeying me.

I picked up the UP24 knowing that Apple was likely to launch a watch with fitness capabilities, and everything pertaining to counting steps’ll be covered by the Apple Watch. I’m getting one of those because I like to try new things. There’s nothing said about sleep though, and the Apple Watch looks way too bulky for that anyway, so I don’t regret buying the UP24 for a second. It’s the perfect alarm clock for me, and it gives me a nice enough overview of how much I’ve moved around during the day. I don’t use the weight features and scan my food, because frankly that doesn’t work too well in Sweden. I do use the UP Coffee companion app, for now, with hopes that the data from it’ll tell me something meaningful in a few months or so.

All in all, my past few weeks with UP24 has been positive. I can find a lot of reasons to keep using the band, and I probably will, but it’s gotten me thinking as well, about where this puts me, possibly us, as people. What I’ve got here is a small computer tracking my every move, transmitting it to a mobile device, which in turn has an app that send it to a datacenter, where the data is analyzed and used to give me some graphs, and power promotional infographics about how people sleep, eat, and exercise. It’s not exactly sensitive data, but it’s not hard to take that trail of thought a few steps further, with minimal advancement in hardware and software imagined. What if you could correlate increased pulse to situations, used to evaluate storefronts, advertisements, or even what a person thinks of people? Let’s stick with that for a moment longer, and zoom in on an important negotiation, where one party’s been paying to get information on how the other party reacts, based on data drawn from various fitness trackers. That’s not a particularly pleasant thought.

Let’s not get too paranoid though, things become what we let them to be, and they rule our lives accordingly. That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that malicious forces, sanctioned by governments or not, will do what they can to get the upper hand. They’re already trying to read your emails, so there’s no reason to not assume they’ll try to figure out how you react in different situations.

Back to today and the now, and I’m still a bit scared of how dependent I’ve become to this band around my wrist. It makes me more productive, more alert, and since I’m prone to headaches if I sleep more that eight hours, it’s also made me feel better physically. All these things are good, but they’re made possible by a device I only take off my wrist when I’m taking a shower, and when it needs charging. I can’t help feeling a bit watched, and a bit queasy about where we’re heading.

I guess that’s it. The UP24 is an excellent device, I can’t recommend it enough, but it’s a first step in a slope I fear’ll be slippery at best. The part of me that wants to keep things simple, to stay independent from outside forces and stimuli, and to keep an open mind to whatever the world throws at me, that part is scared of the band on my wrist. The same part is also more attentive to the fears and possible consequences thanks to the same band, because it keeps my brain refreshed and alert. I’m not sure what that means, other than possibly that I’m getting old and scared of everything.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.