Analog Life is a brand-new website about the “analog divide,” the spaces where our virtual and real worlds diverge and meet. It’s barely a week old, but Chris is already doing an amazing job with it, and his review of the Jawbone UP24 is a perfect example.
This is a great review on so many levels. The photography is downright gorgeous, and it provides plenty of useful information about the product without sugarcoating it. Here’s an excerpt I found particularly interesting:
Unfortunately, the food entry process is arduous. While the catalog of ingredients is extensive and includes a surprising number of brand-specific nutritional data, I have found many cases where the default serving information is incorrect. You must also be online to enter food, and then you must manually enter each ingredient unless you are entering a very well known dish, or a popular meal from a well-established franchise restaurant. Further, once you’ve added all of the ingredients, then you must separately go in and tweak the quantities involved. On top of all of this, there is no way to group commonly eaten ingredients into a “meal.” For example, I routinely have whey protein powder, milk, peanut butter and a banana blended into a morning smoothie. I would love to be able to group these ingredients into an object titled, “Breakfast Smoothie,” and have the application remember its ingredients. Unfortunately, this is not the case. This part of the application is a bit messy, time-consuming, and frankly a deterrent to using this otherwise remarkably useful feature.
I’ve never been terribly interested in activity-tracking devices for this particular reason. Many of the features they promise assume users are accurately logging their meals in the system, but I have never found this to be the case.
Back when I worked at the university, one of the first research projects I was involved in was PREDIRCAM, a health-tracking platform designed to provide tele-medical assistance for people at risk of developing type-2 diabetes. I was in charge of developing the fitness-tracking module, and back then we used Polar RS400 heart-rate monitors to log the amount of exercise users did every day.1
Development of the fitness-tracking module was relatively straightforward, but the diet-logging module turned out to be a nightmare for all the reasons Chris mentions in the above excerpt. Our test users, all of them technically-savvy young people, needed between 4 and 7 minutes to log each meal in the system. When you need to go through such an incredibly cumbersome process just to log a meal, user engagement drops dramatically and in fact, most users are very likely to simply stop logging meals altogether after a few days. At this point the activity tracking itself becomes less useful and starts losing appeal, in some cases even compromising the entire experience.
For what it’s worth, this is clearly what we saw in the pilot study: it all starts and ends with the diet. The reality is that this is a very, very difficult problem to solve and in fact, all major manufacturers of activity-tracking devices are still struggling big-time in this area. While tracking technology has improved dramatically, lifestyle and dietary logging are still very much in their infancy. Until somebody manages to come up with a simple, intuitive and effective way for users to log their meals, these platforms will be unable to realize their full potential.
Keep in mind that development started back in early 2008, when there was still no Fitbit, no Nike Fuelband and no Jawbone Up, and the fitness-tracking capabilities of most phones were laughably limited.↩