I’ve got to hand it to Nike: when it comes to sleek products combined with slick marketing, not many other companies in the world can do it better. My perpetual fascination with technology coupled with my recent conversion in brand loyalty from Adidas to Nike led me to their latest gadget, the Nike+ FuelBand. I had just won my fantasy basketball league–for the second consecutive season–and rationalized such an uncalculated purchase.
The concept of the Nike+ FuelBand was simple: a wristband you wear all day that tracks your movement and gives you points for activity, thereby gamifying your activity level. The FuelBand is a matte black rubber wristband similar to those ubiquitous Livestrong bands that everyone had in the mid 2000s, except slightly thicker and heavier. It seems quite durable and was comfortable enough for me to wear that I’ve already forgotten about it after 2 days, but I’m used to wearing lots of crap on my wrists so your comfort may vary. Inside this wristband is a three-axis accelerometer that tracks the motion of your wrist in all directions, and a really cool LED display. The display is completely invisible when off, but with a push of the only button on the FuelBand, the display magically appears and relays the time, calories burned, steps taken, and NikeFuel.
What sets this device apart from being a glorified pedometer for middle-aged women is the concept of NikeFuel. Researchers at Nike have developed algorithms to translate the patterns of wrist movement to the intensity of your activity, quantified as NikeFuel. The amount of NikeFuel you receive is normalized to your height and weight, so essentially, NikeFuel levels the playing field for everyone of all shapes and sizes. Each day you set number of points as your goal for the next 24 hours. By Nike standards, a normal day sans workout would net you 2000 NikeFuel points, while an active day (1 hour workout) nets 3000 points. The calories burned and steps taken metrics feel like tacked-on afterthoughts though, as the real star of the show is the NikeFuel.
I was initially skeptical of the usefulness of this thing, but my fascination overrode my skepticism, and I’m glad it did. The FuelBand is not a fitness tracker; it is more of a life tracker. Whereas a fitness tracker would show distances run or heart rate graphs, the FuelBand is basically a reminder not to be a lazy sack of crap, but in an incredibly fun and effective way. I was sitting on my couch last night sulking after the Bulls got stomped on by the 76ers, when I realized the day was coming to an end and I was a few hundred points short of my goal. So instead of ruminating on defensive strategy, I got up and started
shooting power-dunking on my Justintyme mini hoop (see previous post.) In no time, I had achieved my goal for the day, and therein lies the beauty of NikeFuel. You don’t need fancy metrics like heart rate to tell yourself to get up; NikeFuel points are simple and motivating.
The accuracy, or more “accurately,” precision, as far as NikeFuel points go, has been quite good so far. It’s been able to tell the difference in activity level between times of walking, krumping, tennis, and running. It even showed me that I walk to campus faster in the morning than at night.
All of these data are synchronized with a computer or iPhone, which is then uploaded online to track your activity over time and motivate you to keep your streak alive of reaching your daily goal. The Bluetooth iPhone sync is exceedingly simple and seamless: you turn on the app and hold the button on the FuelBand, and everything works itself out from there. The app generates a histogram of your accumulated points for each hour of the day, and tracks your distance traveled that day. You also get rewards in the form of tangibly meaningless but emotionally meaningful trophies and badges for achieving goals such as going 50% over your goal or reaching 10,000 points. Of course, it wouldn’t be as fun without a healthy dose of narcissism, and included in the app is the ability to tweet or post onto Facebook your results at any moment in time. And yes, I am fully aware that it just makes me another pawn in Nike’s marketing strategy, giving away free advertising, but it’s so darn fun that I just don’t care.
The FuelBand does have its drawbacks. It is a bit overpriced at $149, and the information regarding their algorithms is ambiguous and useless; I understand that it’s proprietary information, but give me something! Resistance activities such as weightlifting and sports where your hands don’t move like cycling aren’t tracked as accurately. Also, it’s only water-resistant and not waterproof, so swimming with it will brick your device. They say you should be able to shower with it on, but I’m not going to be the guy who tests that claim. I’d also really appreciate a stopwatch and a “trip odometer” type setting so you can see exactly how many points you’ve racked up during one activity. And maybe a “stop eating” reminder when it notices you’ve been raising your fork to your pie-hole one too many times. Just kidding!
Overall, I’m having a lot of fun with the Nike+ FuelBand, but I’ll update about this in due time to determine if this is just the honeymoon phase or if it’s going to stick around. The trend in the past several years to gamify everything known to man has produced many products with vary degrees of staying power (Foursquare, Farmville, Fitocracy, etc.) and this is just another one of them, so we’ll just have to wait and see. It won’t revolutionize your entire life and transform you from Peter Griffin to Lance Armstrong, but you’ll be motivated to make small changes every now and then, and isn’t that really what it’s all about? 99% of fitness products out there tout insanely fast and absurdly dramatic results, but how many of us actually achieve that? And how many of us bite off way more than we can chew, only to be let down? The Nike+ FuelBand has convinced me to walk instead of taking the bus, to take the stairs instead of the elevator, to go work out instead of snacking on Cheez-Its, and who knows what else. These changes may eventually and hopefully become permanent, and motivate me to make better choices in the future, even if I don’t have a little wristband to tell me I’m being lazy.