The Experience of Using a Jawbone Up: From the Perspectives of a Techie and Designer

It’s still dark out.  There’s a band on my arm buzzing and I have no idea why.  My alarm is set for 5:30 am (mostly because I want to get a workout in so that Nadia, my Jawbone partner, will see that I work out daily) and it’s only 5:00 am.  Turns out the settings on my Up are such that it will wake me at a point in my sleep cycle that is most appropriate and least intrusive.  It also turns out that I really think that 30 minutes later would have been least intrusive regardless of my sleep cycle.  I’m not a happy camper, but I’m awake.

Nadia and I have been wearing our Jawbone Ups for about a week and a half now, testing them to understand how technology can create a community and encourage wellness behaviors in users.

Right off the top we had some observations about the technology.   In the most basic terms a Jawbone Up is a wrist band you wear 24/7 that tracks your movement which enables it to understand your physical activity and sleep patterns.  The Up is then paired with your iPhone and a dedicated application that enables sharing of your information with “team members” and lets you take photographs of your food and rate your satisfaction with the meal.

The iPhone app displays all of the data the wrist band collects.  Simply plug it into the earphone jack and the band dumps the data into the app.  You can visualize the data multiple ways with varying degrees of detail.  In addition to viewing the data you have the ability to share it with your team and then comment or message your team through the feed screen.

In order to accurately track different types of activity the Up band has different modes.  The day mode tracks how many steps you take, the sleep mode tracks your sleep cycles and the work out mode can track your physical activity and can be paired with the iPhone app to track the distance of your run using GPS on your phone.   It also allows you to select your favorite songs to pair with your workout.

It should be noted that the app allows you to track your eating habits using photographs of your meals and a survey about how energized you felt after the meal.  Both Nadia and I quickly realized we were not getting any additional value out of this and didn’t use it as part of the experience because of the lack of quantitative data or an ability to verify the data.

The ever clever and tech savvy Nadia decided to give the Up a little test by syncing it at midnight to find out how it would distribute activity over time as it is designed to work on a daily cycle.  Here’s what she found: “It looked like that as soon as it meets the 100% mark on day one, it puts the rest of the steps in the next day, even though I don’t believe that I took 1000 steps in 30mins past midnight! ”

Both of us were initially skeptical of the way the band would be able to accurately track our sleep patterns so, unaware that the other was doing the same, we each decided to lay awake in bed watching TV or reading to see how well the band was able to figure this out.  We were both impressed that the band picked up the fact that we were awake and then felt the sleep tracking was a fairly accurate representation of how we slept.

The band rates your sleep quality, though we are unclear as to how it determines what makes one night’s sleep better than the other.  The app didn’t provide any additional information for the sleep quality score.



Technically speaking we found a few quirks that we hope will be worked out in the new version:

  • The iPhone application crashed frequently and the syncing often failed too.
  • The other drawback is that the band is only compatible with a “specific” iOS device (always use the same device to synch your data) and does not work with other mobile platforms.  It also does not have a desktop version of the application where you could upload the data if you did not have an iOS device.
  • Regarding the workout mode, I’m an avid elliptical user and because the movement I make is different than that of running the Up was unable to accurately track my workouts, though Nadia felt that it was accurate with running.

Now on to the experience of using the device for a couple of weeks.

Both Nadia and I went into this little experiment expecting to have no problems sharing our activity and sleep habits with each other.  We are friends outside of work and didn’t see any reason to think twice about becoming team members.

We quickly realized that sharing what time you go to sleep, how you sleep, when you work out, and how much you walk during the day reveals a lot of personal information about you to your team members.  Nadia remembers thinking, “Why didn’t Allison sleep very well last night?  What was she doing?”  You can imagine that the reasons for not working out, not sleeping well, or walking 10 miles can often be things you might not want to disclose to everyone you know.   Even the most mundane facts about your life feel like very personal information when you share them unfiltered.

That being said, it did create a kind of community and relationship that we didn’t previously have.  We were able to talk about our health and wellness with an ease that would have otherwise been difficult.  By opening communication lines this band seems to lend itself to being a part of a patient-provider relationship to allow for understanding of nuances and behavior patterns.

Because the Up can be a communication tool, we realized it is very important to be careful when selecting your team members.  This is a situation when a bigger team might not be a better team.  Understanding what you want to get out of the experience of using the band informs who should be on your team.  Are you looking for a competitive relationship that will get you off the couch?  pick the guy in the office who runs 5 miles every morning.  Do you want someone who will be sensitive and encouraging about your wellness challenges?  pick that good friend who won’t make fun of the fact that your work out lasted 3 minutes yesterday.  Who sees your information will not only affect the relationship you have but will affect the way you change your behavior.

We both noticed that we would be excited to check and see if the other had updated their stream with a new data dump.  This encouraged us to dump our own data but curiously didn’t seem to make us want to work out or engage in a new wellness behavior.  The voyeuristic aspect of the Up is fun but didn’t seem to change our behavior patterns.

Another feature of the Up that we were excited to try out was the Challenges tab on the app.  You and your team members can create challenges for each other or sign up for sponsored challenges that encourage you to engage in wellness behaviors.  Daily Feats has partnered with Jawbone to create challenges that allow you to earn points that you can redeem for things in the real world (like charity donations or coupons).  While we initially anticipated that these challenges would motivate us, we quickly learned that we got tired of the constant checking in and logging of our activities required for the challenges.

Speaking of getting tired (I’m still mad about getting up early), Nadia and I both began this experiment with enthusiasm and excitement that after a week and a half has dissipated.  We are now both rather bored with the device.  The constant logging, updating and remembering to switch modes makes the Up a bit of a nuisance.  While you’re not required to update the app frequently, it is the only way to track the data.  Without frequent updates behavior modification is difficult to understand and less likely to happen.  Nadia also questions if the data accuracy falls off if it is not dumped often into the app.

That being said, this is an exciting tool that could potentially create an environment within a relationship that would allow for conversations around health and wellness.  Thinking along those lines we’ve come up with a few things that would make this a better product:

  • Being able to track your heart rate.  This would greatly increase the accuracy of calories burned and the intensity of workouts.
  • Being able to see the data updated via Bluetooth.  This would eliminate the need to constantly dump the data into the phone manually and make it a smarter real-time device.
  • The ability to moderate what you share and don’t share more seamlessly.  There is currently the ability to remove information from your feed, but this requires that you go through multiple steps.  Instead there should be a smarter and easier way to do this.
  • The ability to track calories in and calories out.  If the Up could calculate how many calories you were taking in at meals an individual would be able to better track how many calories were consumed vs. how many were burnt.

Sadly, Allison’s Jawbone Up died today.  This is a well known problem with the devices and they have in fact offered a blanket no questions asked refund to all users.   We will be taking Jawbone up on that offer and look forward to seeing what the next version brings.  Maybe Allison can break that one too.

Nadia Wood is an IT specialist (ok, techie) and Allison Verdoorn is a design researcher (ok, designer) at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation.