Saturday, January 30, 2016

Requiem for a Fitness tracker

It happened this morning. It had been long expected, with trepidation. It happened one day earlier than expected.


The ActivityManager of the BodyMedia armband has been shut down.  I’ve been one of the ‘early technology adoptors’, I guess this is what they call it, and, I still can remember well when back in January 2009 when I heard that someone else had bought this tracker I immediately had to have it. Back then, I was still struggling to loose the last 10 pounds, they would not budge and getting more accurate information of where I might be off between burning energy and eating it seemed like a good idea. The bodymedia armband’s claim to fame came when the trainers on The Biggest Loser were wearing it. Because even Jillian wanted better info.

For 7 years I’ve tracked my stats. I went through 3 trackers. The first one was black with a black armband, then a white-silver one with a light gray armband and live blue tooth connection (that one was fickle) and then just a regular one again, smaller and in white. This one I still use. Well, used until today. Because now I can no longer upload the data and get a nice graph back.

(A typical day at work.)

It’s not that I did not try out other trackers, too. The Nike fuelband, or the Fitbit flex, or the Fitbit Charge and the Jawbone UP3. I started using them in the summer, because they were less obvious. But once it was long-sleeve weather again, I recharged the bodymedia armband and re-subscribed to the BodyMedia paid service.

Two years ago, Jawbone bought BodyMedia. The writing was on the wall. The bodymedia armbands were no longer sold, only Jawbone trackers. I had some hopes that Jawbone would improve their own trackers and use the extensive bodymedia expertise on how to use galvanic skin response information to fine-tune their trackers. But up until today this has not happened. The Jawbone Up3 is nothing more than a glorified step tracker and only ‘detects’ activity when you really run or do explicit, sweaty activity. Housework or long walks don’t show up in the calculated calorie balance if you don’t add this activity explicitly.

Back in November the announcement came: Jawbone would shut down the BodyMedia site. “Why, why, why?” I thought. “let it run, people still pay..”. But I guess such a site needs permanent updating and upkeeping and that might be more expensive than the money it brings in.

And so, it is gone, one of the best, if not the best fitness tracker I’ve ever known. I tracked my nights and my days, it told me how well I slept and if I sat around all day with my computer and hardly moved or how much I moved when I went on an all-day shopping trip. I heard this joke once that a husband said, the bodymedia armband gave him a better wife, because now if she needed something upstairs, she would go herself to get it, because she could see how this activity would show up on her daily graph and that all those activities would add up. It took the guesswork out and summed it all up, without me having to do anything.

After 3-4 years wearing it, I had figured out the range of calories I can eat to maintain, to loose and in which zone I will again weight. I figured out which zone of calorie burning I needed to stay in. I had it down to a science, well, ballpark, because you cannot take it too seriously. But I had zones and trends and that helped navigating. I had figured me out. I had also shed those last 10 pounds.

Then….. they changed the algorithms of how to interpret the sensor data, and it was all off again. It does not really help when you get a huge number of calories burnt back when you know nothing has changed in your day. It does not make you feel ‘better’. Instead, I was annoyed and wanted those old numbers back. But after some adjustment they left it as it was, and I started to no longer try to find those zones again. Consistency is really key here, fitness tracker companies.

Today, when I brewed the morning coffee I thought it would be almost the last day to be able to connect and upload my data, and then the day had come earlier than I thought. After 7 years when I will roll up the cable for the bodymedia fitness tracker for good.

R.I.P., Bodymedia armband. You’ve been a reliable friend.

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