The Jawbone UP

Added on by Bryan Clark.
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For the past few weeks, I’ve been wearing the Jawbone UP. Here are my thoughts on the band, the app, and the experience as a whole.

The Band

I’m glad the UP is a wristband, and not a clip-on object. It’s more tangible, visible, and easier to remember to wear.

The UP band has some wonderful features. It’s got an alarm to wake you up at the right moment in your sleep cycle at night or while napping. It tracks your activity and sleep habits, and even buzzes if you’ve been sitting idle too long at work. The battery life is fantastic - in my experience, it lasted the full 10 days.

The aesthetics and comfort of the band are pretty great, too. Like the Fuelband, the UP has a lot of unbendable gadgetry onboard, so to handle this constraint, it’s designed like an open loop to flex a bit - it doesn’t feel like an iron manacle on your wrist. The open-loop design also makes it easy to remove the wristband.

However, the band does have a few major drawbacks. After the second week, the plastic cap started to come loose a bit. Also, the band doesn’t give you any feedback on your activity levels: if you want to check your activity, you have to:

  1. Get out your iPhone,
  2. Unlock your iPhone,
  3. Find the Jawbone UP app and open it,
  4. Take off the UP bracelet,
  5. Remove the UP’s plastic cap
  6. Plug in the band to the iPhone
  7. Wait for the sync (10-20 seconds)

This was fine for a couple of days, but once the “new-shiny-gadget” vibes wore off, this became a chore. I eventually was syncing 1-2 times a day, which means no real-time data.

The Fuelband gets it right in one single action: press a button, and the band will tell you your activity level. I don’t need the UP to sync wirelessly, I just need it to have some visible progress bar on the bracelet to track my daily activity.

The App

The whole premise of the UP is that it will give you insights into your health. You wear the band, it learns about you, and it shows you data.

The problem with the UP is that it has a bad case of Data Vomit. It gleefully spits out colorful bar charts, activity feeds, and metrics, but it buries the story.

When you’re tracking your health, you don’t care about transactions. You care about summaries, trends, and warning signs, and Jawbone’s really missed the mark here. Here’s a list of some of my grievances:

  • Why is the home screen a newsfeed? Each entry is bulky and a waste of screen space. The newsfeed design prioritizes the chronology of activities, which is bad: I’d far prefer a summary view of my activity than a bulky feed.
  • The app feels like it’s meant to be a social network. Each entry on my activity list includes an avatar, username, a timestamp, an ability to comment, and an indication of whether that post is public or private. I don’t want to comment on my broccoli, I just want a summary view of my day.
  • I wish that, instead of tracking the number of food items I’ve eaten, the app would focus on my calorie intake and the quality of food I’m eating.
  • The food summary is too “cute” and not easy enough to read. How do these numbers compare to yesterday? How much extra salt have I had today? The UP won’t show you this in a meaningful way.
  • The app makes no attempt to account for your activity levels when tracking calories. If I go for a 400-calorie run, my daily calorie budget should increase by 400 calories. Instead, the UP buries your calorie intake on a second screen.
  • It’s got not one, but twohamburger basements. Hamburger basements are often an indicator of lazy design; they’re used when the designer can’t decide what features an app should have, so they use offscreen navigation lists to hold a variable number of features and sections. They’ve got some major drawbacks, though: it’s difficult to switch sections, the sections are less discoverable, and in the UP’s case, if you’ve got two offscreen navigation lists, the right-hand one is dependent on the section you’re in, which is confusing and slow to move between.

Data should tell a story

A good health monitor should provide me summaries in a meaningful way. The data displayed from the UP has a few main issues:

The app should tell a story with your data. With numbers, it should use daily averages instead of weekly sums. It should use scatterplots and best-fit lines or some other clever method to show correlations (both positive and negative). Here are a few stories that the UP doesn’t tell, but I wish it would:

  • Cumulative Sleep Debt over time: how far behind am I on my sleep? 
  • Sleep debt and your mood: How does my sleep debt affect my reported mood?
  • How does my activity level affect my mood?
  • How do sleep and physical activity affect my calorie intake? My weight?
  • Am I sleeping more or less on an average night this month than last month? (The app currently shows weekly and monthly totals, not averages).

What the UP could be

It’s not right to point out problems without making some suggestions, so here’s what I’m looking for in a health-tracking tool:

  • A wristband that looks great, and has a good battery life.
  • A tool that either has over-the-air sync or an on-device progress indicator. (Bonus points if it’s got both.)
  • A tool that tracks my sleep, and wakes me up at the right moment. (The UP is great at this).
  • The app needs to focus on summaries, trends, correlations, and useful recommendations. (The UP needs to ditch the “activity feed” concept - unless it’s a feed of daily summaries.) LoseIt has a killer daily and weekly summary view; I wish the UP had a similar dashboard.
  • The service should tie in with other services: I love Strava for tracking biking and running, and LoseIt has the best calorie-and-weight-tracking website I’ve seen. The FitBit does this syncing nicely.

In the end, I’ll be returning my Jawbone UP. The silent alarm in the morning is wonderful, but aside from that feature, the bracelet hasn’t been worth the effort. I have spent more time and attention thinking about my activity and health, which is the whole point, but I’m holding my breath for a service that’s simpler, easier, and tells a more compelling story with my data.