The Jawbone UP is a gadget. It’s a bracelet that tracks all your movements: steps, sleep etc. The smartphone app is supposed to do the rest, like analyze your activity, save your meals and tell you what is best to live a healthier life. For those who prefer to watch it in a video, check out Jawbone’s official video for the UP. The most popular comment of the YouTube video is full of common sense: “Give me a break. If humans need an app to do this, we’re in more trouble than I thought“. However, I wanted to try it, and I think the Jawbone UP has a lot of potential. I received it a couple of weeks ago and, as Cliff Kuang puts it in his Fast.Co.Design post, it’s a failure! It is a failure today, with the current application and the undeniable flaws that can’t be corrected anymore. But it could become an awesome product, similarly to the iPhone. Here’s what I think of it today… and how I think it could be improved to become really useful.
The wristband alone costs 100$. Quite a lot of money, no doubt about that. But the promise of Jawbone that it offers a non-intrusive way to track your activity, to record your meals, to analyze your sleep cycles and even to wake you up when your sleep is in a light cycle. Very promising stuff. After 2 weeks of use, here are my pros and cons of the current UP:
What’s great: The idea and the design
- The idea is brilliant: build a device that looks good and that can postentially be used for 1000 of things, you decide how to use it. Basically, it’s a “platform” like Microsoft’s Kinect or Apple’s iPhone. The design of the wristband is also great, it looks elegant and is small enough to be (barely) unnoticed. “The band itself is a smart UX design“, Cliff Kuang says, which is true because you have only one button, a hidden plug for the phone and an invisible LED that shows you in which mode you are (sleep, normal or exercise). Looks great.
- As you can see in the above screenshot, the app provides you with a cool visualization of continuous activity. That day, I woke up at 7:30 AM because my sleep was light. The UP wristband wakes you up by vibrating when your sleep cycle is light, within a 30 minutes interval that you enter into the app before going to bed. I was able to verify that I have a very light sleep (majority of light blue during a night), which something I suspected before but I never had a ‘proof’ of it. The sleep-tracking functionality is definitely a great feature.
- But not only sleep-tracking is great, the same applies to exercise-tracking (as long as it’s running!). You push the button twice before you start, and push it once again when you’re done, that’s it. As you can see above, the tracking is quite accurate, and I was stunned by the fact that it even recognized the pauses during I which I did some ‘non-moving’ exercise like push-ups. Since I never use a cardiometer for sports, the UP is perfect for me. Very good surprise: the wristband even recognized activities like inline skating or biking (to a certain extent).
- The website of Jawbone is not only beautiful, also has it a great forum for user-support. When I wanted to know how I could use the UP to track a bike ride, I found a useful answer here, for instance. There’s also a thread about adding a calorie-counting function to the app here (we’ll get to this later in the post). So for support and issues, this forum is great! I doubt that I will ever use the community functionnality of the UP to share my activity and challenge my friends though, I’m really not a friend of this excessive social-gamification stuff. But that’s only up to me 😉
What definitely sucks: The wristband’s flaws
- As Cliff Kuang notes in his post, the absence of wireless syncronization is definitely a bad point. Even though people like me have their smartphone with them almost 24/7, the fact that you have to plus it into the headphone jack is kind of disappointing for such a premium product. I must admit that synchronization works well on my band, though. This design choice has another negative implication: you can’t charge your wristband via your phone, you must do it viathe grey USB-plug that you can see in this photo:
- As I said before, the step-counting function is great. However, I still don’t understand why the band hasn’t a built-in GPS chip? Did Jawbone fear customers’ reactions towards what could have been perceived as a light version of a prisonner’s wristband? I don’t know, but I don’t think that it would have been weird, I think it should have been designed with a GPS to completely avoid the reliance on the phone’s GPS. Anyway, it’s probably too late to change that. The last part of this review is about what sucks most in the UP: the app and it’s current fucntionnalities.
What Jawbone can improve (making it so promising): The software
The UP nails the idea of a physical presence, but fails in creating an app that becomes a virtual companion that rewards constant attention
- The above quote stems from Cliff Kuang’s review, and it highlights a major problem of the UP: it’s application. One example of this need for “constant attention” is the meal-tracking. When you eat something, you’re supposed to take a photo of your meal, and you’ll be asked to say how you feel about your meal a couple of hours later. This is nonsense, because it doesn’t take into consideration calories or nutricial quality of what you eat. As you can see in the screenshots of this review, I stopped using the meal-function completely, exactly like this reviewer from ZDnet. I’ll use it only is the UP incorporates smarter features, similar to the Calorie Counter or the Meal Snapapplications.
- Generally, the application needs an overhaul. “For a very basic app, there’s too many paths for ultimately doing the same thing. You can go around in circles on the thing, and that quickly lends the exhausting feeling of being lost“, says Cliff Kuang. The navigation is not very good, and I’m sure that’s one of the first things to fix for Jawbone. Another simple example: you have to set your wake up every evening, because the application doesn’t allow to have different wake-up hours on different days of the week.
- My last remark about software is that the user (me), is not asked to contribute in any way; the application is completely “locked”. People from Jawbone, you should allow users contribute to the richness of the UP: after a workout, you could ask me to rate the accuracy of the UP’s tracking; after a meal, you could ask me how many calories it contained; after a night of sleep, you could ask me if I feel tired or not… Applications like Calorie Counter rely on user input to feed a whole library of meals, allong with nutritional information, you should be inspired by this and “unlock” your application a little bit.
… this surprising email received this week !
My feedback is not very bad, I think it’s quite constructive actually. It seems that the UP band has generated quite some disappointment, though. Three days ago, all UP bad owner received a surprising email from Jawbone’s CEO, Hosain Rahman.
It says that “We regret any disappointment we’ve created for our community of users (…). The fact that you’ve taken the time to talk with us and help us make a better product is simply phenomenal. (…) Please know that we’re doing – and will continue to do – everything we can to make things right. This is just the beginning for UP and we are excited to keep improving“. Obviously, the feedback is quite bad, and the people from Jawbone know how much a satisfide community of users is crucial! Then, with a link to http://jawbone.com/UPrefund, they tell us that all UP bands bought in 2011 can be refunded!
“For whatever reason (…) you can receive a full refund for UP. This is true even if you decide to keep your UP band. We are so committed to this product that we’re offering you the option of using it for free. (…) For most of you, this program is simply meant to offer peace of mind”
This is a werid move, but it’s courageous! Improve the UP, Jawbone, and you’ll something very powerful, trust me!
UPDATE FROM DECEMBER 19th: About a week afterfirst publication of this post, my UP stopped working (won’t sync with the iPhone anymore). Unless Jawbone fixes the current flaws, I see it as very likely that I won’t use it anymore… Sad ending.