The latest player in fitness tracking might just change the game
Data analysis is no longer just a practice for economists or statistics-hungry infographic designers. Thanks to technology at large, anyone can easily track every aspect of their existence to create a personalized numerical evaluation—a quantified self. Psychology has shown that in general, people are motivated by having data—it's just how you collect, view and use that information that makes all the difference. Nike, a significant proponent of this movement since launching the original Nike+ in 2006 as an iPod nano add-on, aims to inspire people to be more active. Because, as CEO Mark Parker neatly sums up, "If you have a body, you're an athlete."
Introduced today, the Nike FuelBand is a device designed to make self-tracking even more simple and engaging. Nike+ users know that this isn't the first iteration for the sportswear giant—the Sportband has been counting runners' details like stride, time, distance, pace and calories since 2008. And it isn't just the fitness industry interested in the quantified self. Nick Felton's Daytum iPhone app and website make it a breeze to collect information on anything from the number of flights you take to the amount of coffee you drink each day. The Up wristband, designed by Yves Behar for the innovative tech company Jawbone, tracks daily activity through a combination of its built-in accelerometer and an iPhone app. While all three of these examples hit the mark in some aspect, the FuelBand is the most thoughtfully designed with the foundation it lays for potential developments in customized data-tracking as well as its usefulness and usability during the key moments of sport.
Using their new universal measurement system called Nike Fuel, you can compete against anyone with any body type at any skill level. As you accomplish each goal, the FuelBand's LED lights turns from red to yellow to green. By providing this simple meter, the wearer can check their activity status with a mere glimpse. For more detailed queries the band's display can toggle between time, distance, calories burned and Fuel. By creating a normalized metric, Nike hopes to make collaboration and competition among users of different athletic levels more fun.
There's a deep psychology to the role data plays in motivation. Nike's Vice President of Digital Sport Stefan Olander tells us they learned a great deal about the power of goal-setting and the power of not complicating things from Nike+ Running over the past five years, and have implemented these insights into the FuelBand. "When you look at setting a goal, we see a very clear trend that people who set themselves a goal and hit it are so much more likely to stick with any experience than the ones that either don't set a goal, or set too high of a goal, miss it and get discouraged." Finding that people don't need "extreme granularity" and are instead mostly concerned with consistency and simplicity, Olander says what Nike is attempting to do is "make it really easy to level something—give yourself a goal, but then allow yourself to adjust that all the time to what you want to do."
FuelBand ambassador Lance Armstrong explains, "the way we spend our time is important" and raises a valuable point in that for competitive athletes, rest is also a very necessary part of training. While not the primary focus of the band, it does allow you to see days you spent recovering, and the lack of Fuel burned is actually a symbol of allowing the body to recuperate. This also touches upon on one of Olander's insightful declarations: "You can't improve what you can't measure."
An accelerometer and tracking algorithm two years in the making, the FuelBand's user interface is undoubtedly the most attractive part. Equipped with a built-in USB, the band also wirelessly syncs with your iPhone over Bluetooth, simply by pressing the mechanism's only button for a few seconds when it's within range of the phone. From there you can share your monitored information with friends on Facebook, FourSquare and Path. You can also make daily notes within the iPhone app. It allows you to choose from several emoticons to reflect on what kind of day it was for you, and jot down personal details about what went on. The band automatically resets at midnight, leaving you ready for the next day's challenges, whether that's merely walking to work or working out at the gym.
More comfortable than wearing a larger touchscreen device and more useful than other bands because it has a display and the ability to sync wirelessly, the FuelBand comes in three sizes and can be adjusted for whether you're wearing it on your right or left wrist.
For a device like this to really change behavior, the design and user experience has to be perfect: it needs to be comfortable to wear all the time, you have to be able to check status of data at a glance and the outputs it provides have to be personally relevant. The FuelBand accomplishes all of this and promises more to come.
The FuelBand will be available for pre-order from 5pm EST on 19 January 2012 in the U.S. and will hit Europe in May 2012.
by Josh Rubin and Karen Day
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