September 21, 2011

Addictive fitness with a fitbit

When I first heard about Fitbit, it seemed like one of those fads that seemed to sweep across the public conscience, for a few ephemeral moments before the destined disappearing to obscurity. A “glorified pedometer” someone called it. And strictly speaking it is one. But it had one redeeming quality in its favor - it makes being healthy fun, addictive.

At it's heart, the Fitbit is a nifty device that uses a 3-dimensional motion sensor, which gives it a very accurate way to measure movement. The other piece of cool technology is it's base station. Using an ultra-low power 2.4 GHz ANT radio transceiver, the base station silently talks to any device that is within 15 feet to collect motion data and post it to the fitbit website.

Which is when the real magic begins.

The fitbit experience has nailed two things - calibration and presentation. Armed with nothing more than motion data, the fitbit is able to translate that into steps, and further into calories burned all with just the minimum physiological data about the wearer. While this might not rank really high on the “accuracy” scale, it is tremendously useful on the “it just works” scale.

Once it does these translations, it does an equally good job with presenting the information without making it too overwhelming. The fitbit itself has an embedded screen with a single button, which gives enough information to whet your appetite. The website furthers this thirst for knowledge by presenting, plotting, tagging and socially comparing the fitness data. In addition, the website also allows you to log food intake, activities and other vital statistics - stuff the fitbit cannot dream of measuring.

Activity Tracker

That is me above - a relatively sedentary day, with frenzied activity getting to and from meeting rooms; and a tennis game to round the evening.

Fitbit takes the same motion tracker technology and does something else with it. By using a provided sleeve you can wear the tracker on your arm while you sleep and it keeps track of how many times you toss and turn to determine how restful a sleep you have had. Again, not the most accurate - not every toss and turn is bad and not every time you wake up do you have to move. But good enough to serve a purpose.

Activity Tracker
5,000 Steps in a Day10,000 Steps in a Day

But in the end, what makes fitbit really stick, is the nice balance it strikes in being fun yet earnest. It does not come across as that chiseled guy in the gym who seems to speak jargon no one else comprehends, or irreverent like Groupon which may be good for selling baubles but is not the best pose to strike when you are urging to get someone to be healthy.

Yet it has elements of both; making me, for the first time, want to challenge myself to be more active.