Nike+ FuelBand – the future is not here, but not yet

Fjord Family

Going home – it’s been a long day – then the seductive and artfully dressed windows of Niketown on Oxford Circus suck me in and minutes later I’m walking out with a Nike+ FuelBand, £149 lighter in my pocket. The future is wearable! And measurable! And I have it all on my wrist.

Well not quite it turns out. I’ve been living with this device for just over one week and so far, I feel underwhelmed. If you don’t already know, the FuelBand is a new device from Nike+ that you wear on your wrist. Using accelerometer technology it purports to measure your movement and provide you with daily and live readouts on calories, steps taken, and “Fuel” used. It is also a watch. “Fuel” is a brand new activity metric invented by Nike. They claim it is the “ultimate measure of your athletic life… the more you move the more you earn”.

The device itself is stiff like a bracelet, covered in a rubberized surface that makes it comfortable to wear and reasonably discrete – in a sort of black tech bling way. As you might expect from Nike, it comes beautifully packaged and is very easy to set up. The clip doubles up as a USB key so connecting to a computer and synching is very easy. It also has Bluetooth.

Each day you set a target of Fuel to use. It takes a few days to understand what an average day looks like. For me its 5,200 Fuel points a day. This becomes interesting when you see the difference between a relatively sedentary day (one that is very much desk based and earns me 3,220 points) and a highly active day (such as a Sunday run which is equivalent to 7,100 points). It also turns out that a 20 minute walk rather than taking the bus makes a much bigger difference to a lower activity day than you might think. The big effect is of course psychological. Tracking in real time your Fuel usage is a big motivator, reinforced by the presence of the device on your wrist. In addition when you sync you can see your averages plotted against your gender age group and the whole Nike+ Community. On device, your daily progress is made glanceable by a red/orange/green light display.

But that’s about it for usefulness. The ‘steps taken’ metric is meaningless except for the initial surprise at how many you do in a day (25,000 in an active day). The calories burned could be useful but these do not seem to correlate at all to the calorie measurements in some of the more popular running apps such as RunKeeper and Endomondo. So which do you trust? If the FuelBand evolves to a point where it can also measure your calorie intake then this metric will become very significant.

The FuelBand also features a watch but there’s an interesting usability glitch here since it’s not really that glanceable. This is partly because the band lies around your wrist but the readout is in line with the band – unlike a watch which is designed to be read with your arm across your body – so you have to straighten your arm to read it, which feels unnatural. Moreover you have to press the button to switch between functions, so if you are tracking your Fuel and want to check the time, it means you have to press the button four times. I think I’ll stick with my traditional watch for now.

It does not measure cycling – at all. For those of us who love cycling this is a major miss because if you ride say 10 miles a day then the Fuel measurement becomes almost worthless. But without GPS it is hard to see how they could have done it.

I think it would be helpful if you could change your daily target during that day. Right now it is fixed the day before (up to midnight). The issue is that some days you wake up and decide that you may not go ahead and do the training you promised yourself. People adjust their targets by the day, and their technology should allow them to the same.

The web interface is very pretty. The data is compelling, and mildly addictive. But it also feels like there are some navigational issues: the difference between the three major tabs  “Your name”,  “Activity” and “Dashboard” still eludes me on each visit.

A plus is that the battery last about four days. This seems reasonable and easy to manage (you just leave it charge overnight).

Nike has done a lot of great things here. The whole Fuel concept is very clever branding and it is not hard to see the places it can lead them. As a strategy it is admirable. As a device it is not yet worth the price point given its limited usefulness. I think it will be – you can sniff the future but not quite inhale it fully.

Fjord Family

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