Jawbone UP: I'm still wearing it

I’ve been wearing the Jawbone UP for about 8 months, and this past weekend I found myself wondering whether or not it had been worth it, and whether I’d continue wearing it on my wrist.

The UP is a wristband which tracks a couple of things: how many steps you take during the day, and how well you sleep at night, which I wrote about a while back. Despite that pithy explanation, there’s a bit more to it than that, and that’s led to a few awkward moments as I’ve fumbled over explaining it to people. A surprising amount of people wonder what it is and what it does, which is either good news or bad news for designer Yves Béhar, take your pick.

You’ll never need just one UP

Like many, my UP went dud and had to be replaced. I wasn’t very surprised; Jawbone had an awful time with the first version of the UP, which bombed fairly spectacularly. It probably cost them a fair wad of cash, but they came back with another version which was much more robust, and a very up-front replacement program that allowed you to trade one of the 1st gen bands for the new, improved version. I bought one of the second wave, which died on me after 5 months use. It’s got to be pretty hard to make a device that houses delicate electronics while at the same time going with you everywhere (including the shower.)

The good news was that — probably because they’re so used to it — the replacement process was extremely smooth. Probably one of the most enjoyable customer service experiences I’ve ever had. No hassle: a couple of emails later they shipped me a new band in my size and color, with a shipping label to ship the malfunctioning band back. Had I got in touch as soon as my UP stopped working I’d only have spent about 5 days without one. I’ve noticed this phenomenon before: despite the fact that the product they sold me stopped working, good customer service in the return process ensured that I actually ended up liking them more at the end.

Ahead of its time

I think the Jawbone UP and accompanying app have some features that are good ideas but introduced too early in the game to really be executed well.

  • It’s impossible to keep tracking your food unless you dont have any other hobbies. I persevered for the first month I had the band, logging each of my meals into the app slavishly. The net return benefit of knowing how healthily I was eating wasn’t enough to keep me at it. I would actually recommend UP for calorie tracking if that’s something you already want to do. But it’s just too time-consuming and tedious to log every meal, despite the fact that they’ve made it about as easy as they can. Technology isn’t quite to the point where you can snap a picture of your food and have your phone figure out what it is and how much. Nor do you have nanobots in your bloodstream cataloguing new nutrients.

  • There’s a whole social aspect to UP which involves linking up with partners who share their daily stats. I can see this being fun if you have a lot of nerdy friends who also own an UP, but it just doesn’t fly for me. I’m on my own here! I also have zero desire to share anything from UP on my Facebook timeline. Maybe in the future when everyone is tech savvy enough that a large percentage of regular people track these kind of metrics, sure. Not in 2013.

Buzz, buzz, buzz

The UP has a particular feature that I thought would be a lot more useful than it turned out to be. You can set a duration of time in the app, say half an hour, and then when you’ve been idle for that amount of time the UP buzzes to remind you to get up and move around.

Turns out that’s just annoying, and made me get up and move around zero times out of ten. Maybe this is just a bug with Sid 1.0, instead of a problem with the band. I turned it off because all it accomplished was a slight rise in my background anxiety level, and a slight drop in battery life.

The app does have a great notification feature that tells you when you need to charge your up, and that I am a fan of.

No bluetooth, no problem

The only way to sync your Jawbone UP with anything is to plug it into the audio jack on your iPhone. When I first bought the thing I figured that this would be annoying, and looked forward to the next version of the UP that would surely have bluetooth syncing. I was wrong: two things are good about the way the band syncs:

  • No bluetooth means that it has an awesome 10 day battery life.

  • More importantly: I’ve found that having to sync through the audio jack is actually good, in that it makes me look at the stats more often than I think I would if it was syncing in the background. I’ve gotten into a routine of syncing it at the end of the day, which has turned into a nice way to reflect back over what I did that day, and how the amount of sleep I got the night before affected me.

So what’s the point?

This is the question that I see in the eyes of a lot of people when I’m done explaining what the Jawbone UP is and what it does.

The straightforward answer, and the one that I generally give, is that knowing all these metrics helps me be healthier. It reminds me to get more activity into my daily routine, and it’s helped me work on achieving a better sleep schedule. This really is true, and I can see real changes in the way I think about how I structure my day and how active I am.

The in-depth answer is a bit more nebulous. I find that in order to fully appreciate the here and now you need to place it in a historical context. I’m interested in the way that people change over time, imperceptibly day-to-day but profoundly in the course of years. It’s difficult to look back accurately and put yourself in the place of your past self. I’m delighted by visualization of long term personal statistics, and the way larger trends are revealed by the granular pieces of data that the UP band gathers. Being able to notice that a seemingly small change — an extra 20 minutes sleep, for example — can have large effects elsewhere is extremely interesting. The questions it raises (correlation, causation, &c) keep me entertained. Being able to relate my energy level or mood back to how much sleep I’m getting keeps me saner. Maybe because I’ve never successfully managed to keep a journal this is an easier version of that. Maybe it all feeds into some subconscious fantasy of being an android. Maybe I am an android. Who knows.

Like I said, it’s tough to explain. But I do know that, boosted by the great experience I had getting a replacement, I’ll continue wearing the UP. It feels like a step in the right direction towards a future integrated, wearable tech.