“People know more about their iPhone than they do their own health,” points out Travis Bogard, Jawbone’s VP of product development. “So how do we make them consumers of their own wellness?” Today Jawbone is finally unwrapping their attempt to solve the problem: The UP, a $100 wristband, smartphone app, and web app trio that work together to monitor your exercise habits, sleep cycles, and eating decisions. It’s already on sale on Jawbone’s website; on November 6th, it’ll be available at Apple, Target, AT&T stores, and Best Buy.
The product represents a massive investment for the company, and a potential turning point for it as well: Armed with a whopping $120 million in venture capital raised in just the last year, UP is intended to put Jawbone squarely within the $52 billion weight loss market and the $24 billion sleep-aid market. Jawbone hopes the device will become as ubiquitous as its famed headsets. Can it catch on?
“You have to create a Facebook-like engagement that keeps people coming back,” points out Bogard. To that end, the UP wristband is meant to be worn 24 hours a day. When you’re awake, its accelerometer monitors your movement–whether you’re running, walking, or climbing stairs–and then sends that data to the app, which shows how many calories you’ve burned. When you’re asleep, the UP monitors your sleep stage, by tracking subtle fluttering wrist movements (a natural occurrence during REM sleep, which is similar to eyelid flutter). When its time to wake up, the wristband vibrates slightly, and times its alarm to the best phase of your sleep cycle. And finally, the UP smartphone app allows you to take pictures of your food and log your meals.
The cleverest features, however, are a bit more subtle. The UP isn’t meant to be a passive health-monitoring device–if so, it would be hard to see how people would keep using it, given how often, for example, diets fail. Instead, it’s meant to constantly nudge you into better behavior. For example, you can set the wristband to vibrate when you’ve been sedentary for too long–a reminder to keep moving around. There are also challenges you can take on, such as running or walking a certain distance each day, or biking to work three times a week. Users can track their progress as they go along, and they can choose challenges created by others (including professional trainers and public-health experts).
Jawbone also hopes that social-networking features built into the app will provide a missing layer of motivation. “The number one correlate with your weight is what your friends are doing,” points out Bogard. “It’s not your DNA or anything else.” So the app allows you to see the challenges that friends are doing, as well as their fitness progress and activities. As Bogard describes it, those features are meant to help push you into action on lazy Sundays when you’re deciding between going to the gym and watching football.
If UP works, it could augur a huge shift in the way we approach weight loss and staying healthy. It all hinges, of course, on that “Facebook-like engagement.” Jawbone argues that technology inherently engages people–so even though diets almost always fail, technologies such as Facebook can create subtle behavioral shifts in short order. (How many times do you check your Facebook page a day?) But it’s a tall order to create a device that is ever-present but also not annoying. It places a high demand on a well integrated app/wristband system, and also a seamless user experience in the apps. It’s worth noting that UP will work best if it reminds you about your wellness precisely when you’re not thinking about it.
“Health isn’t about going to the gym three times a week,” says Bogard. “It’s about the thousands of little decisions that you make during the day. It’s about what you do in between those ‘healthy times.'”