Elizabeth Lopatto, in January 2018 for The Verge, writes:
The Move goal is adjustable — I can lower it at any time — but there’s no way to program the Watch to consistently honor my rest days. I just have to manually lower the goal for that day, and then raise it for the next one. Unfortunately, this requires too much of my attention. I have actual things to do that are more important than manually telling my fitness app to let me rest, so mostly I forget to do it until it’s too late. Even when I remember, I wind up with a different problem: I forget to reset the Watch to a higher Move goal the next day. I spent one week being psyched that I hit my goal only to discover that I had only hit the lowered goal.
It’s two years later, and several versions of WatchOS have come and gone, with another is forthcoming. And yet Apple hasn’t fixed this very common and very basic problem with their wearable line of products.
Apple has repeatedly stated that it recognizes that the Apple Watch is a super popular device for fitness tracking, and I can attest that it’s about the best wearable that’s currently on the market. But when the world’s richest company can’t even get the basics of their product right it raises questions about what it’s really focusing on, and why; pushing people to exercise each day, and forego rest days, is harmful to health and fitness alike. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the current Watch betas fix this problem, though maybe Apple will surprise people with some extra promise when they reveal their new devices in the coming days.
We generate a vast amount of digital exhaust which imperceptibly lingers around us. The metadata and content that’s left behind us is typically regarded as harmless until it’s used or abused, or until it’s misappropriated by someone.
Part of this exhaust follows from our regular shifting between services as our tastes, interests, attitudes, ambitions, and desires change. Social media platforms are adopted and abandoned. Fitness tracking systems that were exciting one year are dull the next and then forgotten, with the tracker consigned to a trash bin or electronics drawer and data residing in perpetuity with whatever service was collecting it. The data we’ve contributed to all those services lingers: it can come back to haunt us in ways we don’t understand or appreciate when signing up for the service, and it can be challenging to undo the associated harms when they befall us.
As part of my ongoing effort to clean up some of the exhaust I’ve left behind, I deleted an old Fitbit account a few weeks ago. It was a bit annoying — you need to contact support, click yes to some emails, and then support will delete the information — but after ten minutes or so the account and its data was consigned to the dustbin of the Internet. Similarly, I blew away over 32,000 tweets this week. I left the last six months data behind or so, but it means that there’s a long trace of exhaust that’s gone.1 And I’ll be undertaking similar operations for the rest of the year, or at least so I’ve planned.
In the case of the Fitbit data, it now rests securely in Apple Health, giving me a broader understanding of changes to my fitness activities than I previously enjoyed. I downloaded a copy of my tweets before wiping them away. And for personal blogs, I’m either consolidating them here or into a semi-local digital journal so I don’t lose what I’ve previously written. But if I’m serious it’s unlikely that I’m going to re-read (that many) of my old blogs. And I’m not looking at daily variations between today’s fitness regime and that of 2008. The data could do a lot more in other persons’ hands to harm me than in my own hands to benefit me, especially as I’ve moved away from where those blogs were active and the fitness communities where members engaged with one another.
The only thing that bothers me is that, in removing things from the Internet, I’m breaking the links that were inbound to those respective pieces of content. But…did anyone really link back to old tweets and, if they did, do I have a responsibility for their linking to what I tend to perceive as off-hand comments? Do I have to maintain and support now long-abandoned accounts on the presumption that someone might someday want to follow a link?
For a long time I would have said ‘yes’ to either of those statements. But I just don’t think that that’s a healthy attitude: humanity forgets. And then we rebuild the old it is in slightly different formats and in the (perceived) image of the past. I can’t imagine those old tweets, blogs, or fitness tracking data being so important that anyone will want to rebuild or remake what they once were and, if that is the case, then they’re welcome to follow in humanity’s ancient footsteps of imaging the past and superimposing their own aspirations, dreams, desires, and fears upon it.
Writing for friends and yourself can clear your thoughts, help you plan and invite the discovery of new ideas. Writing with the intention to put your thoughts out there leads to real writing. Writing gets real when it is read. Before that, it is a dream in letters. Writing to get read makes you careful, responsible, and considerate. It forces you to think as simply, clearly and understandably as possible. It forces you to think about how what you say may look and feel from the outside. Writing to be read may not be desirable for everybody. But if you feel that you have something to say, write to be read. Don’t search for something to write because you want to be famous or rich. If you want fame jump from a cliff into a butter bucket on YouTube. If you want to be rich, get into finance.
I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to structure my life, not just on a day to day basis, but with the intent of accomplishing something meaningful this year. Some of that relates to personal projects I want to pull off.1 But perhaps the most important thing I want to do this year is develop a really boring habit.
Mike Vardy wrote about his intent improve his personal fitness this year. His description of past attempts to become fit and how that differs from his current behaviours resonated with me. He wrote:
When I was trying to achieve a “body for life” before, I was single and doing it mainly to improve my physique for any potential ladies that I may wind up dating. I wasn’t really doing it for myself.
In contrast, this time he’s doing:
it for myself — and my family. My wife deserves to have a husband who’s in decent shape, and my kids deserve to have a father who can keep up with them. When my youngest turns thirteen, I’ll be fifty. I want to be able to roughhouse with him at that age and not feel it for weeks afterward. I’d also like to give myself the best shot at seeing my kids’ grandkids. Without exercise and proper diet, that just ain’t going to happen
In the past I tried to become more fit by taking it to the extreme. I also felt I had to hide what I was doing to avoid recriminations from family and people I lived with. I exercised when no one was around, or up, and hid the fact I was going on long challenging walks to avoid all kinds of hurtful commentary: getting fit was something that people were bemused about, at best, and openly mocked, at worst. I don’t have that kind of negative energy around me now and, instead, I have the support of people I love.2
I don’t know that my motives are quite the same as Mike: I’m not a father, and don’t intend to become one, nor am I doing this because I think someone else deserves my body in one format or another. No, I’m doing this purely because I would like to be in a situation where I can just say ‘sure, let’s climb that mountain’ and get going. I want to be able to hop on a bike and cycle across one of Canada’s smaller provinces because it would be neat to take that ride. And, more importantly, I want to get in the habit that regular active exercise is just so routine that it’s a normal, established, and boring part of my life.
Tim Cook was asked in the Apple earning call that took place in February about the company had considered whether, and if so how, their battery replacement program might affect replacement rates. The implied comment was the replacements might reduce the likelihood that consumers would upgrade to the new versions of devices, on grounds that some upgrades had historically taken place because people bought new phones as a result of their old ones slowing down or their batteries not providing adequate charge to get through a day. Cook responded that Apple:
did not consider in any way, shape, or form what it would do to upgrade rates. We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do for our customers. I don’t know what effect it will have for our customers. It was not in our thought process of deciding to do what we’ve done.
This is a great answer. Though I do suspect that the battery replacement program will delay some upgrades, I don’t know that such a delay would be inherently bad for the company. Jason Snell wrote that the iPhone 8 — not the X — was a really amazing phone for most people because they tended to be coming from devices that were release two or more years ago. As a result, people that were coming from iPhone 6, 6s, and 5s devices didn’t just get the updates of the iPhone 8 but also all the updates that came to the iPhone 7 and, in some cases, iPhone 6s.
In effect, people who waited three or more years to update ended up being wowed by all of the features in the new iPhone. These are everyday users who really do use words like ‘magic’ and literally utter ‘wow’ when things happen. They laugh with joy when Siri just does something right, or they have calendar items automatically added from their mail. These are the everyday consumers that Apple is making its money from.
These normal users are the ones that are going to be blown away whenever they do an upgrade, and are going to be especially appreciative of all the incremental updates that take place in the extra year they might delay an upgrade. They’re going to talk to their friends and family and co-workers. They might also talk about how the battery situation sucked while, simultaneously, mentioning how no other company offers a similar replacement program. Probably the only equivalent they’ll be able to think of was Samsung’s global recall of devices that were literally exploding in people’s hands.
Quotation of the Week
“By retreating into ourselves, it looks as if we are the enemies of others, but our solitary moments are in reality a homage to the richness of social existence. Unless we’ve had time alone, we can’t be who we would like to be around our fellow humans. We won’t have original opinions. We won’t have lively and authentic perspectives. We’ll be – in the wrong way – a bit like everyone else.”
I’ve swapped between a bunch of different fitness trackers (and companies) over the past several years. I love how Apple Health manages to bring all of them together…except for my historical Fitbit data. But I found (and installed and ran) myFitnessSync for Fitbit – Fitbit to Apple Health and now I finally have all of my data stored in Apple Health. And, also, I can now blow away my old Fitbit account!
Both groups had significant improvements in body composition, fitness, physical activity and diet, with no significant difference between groups, they said.
In total, 75 per cent of participants completed the study.
Estimated average weights for the group wearing trackers were 212 pounds at study entry and 205 pounds at 24 months, resulting in an average weight loss of about 7.7 pounds.
In comparison, those in the website group started out at 210 pounds when the study began and weighed in at 197 pounds at 24 months, for an average loss of 13 pounds.
Still, Jakicic said in an email: “We should not send the message that these wearable technologies do not help with weight loss — there were some in our study for whom it made a difference.
I would argue that the ‘advantage’ that the trackers offer is to motivate people who otherwise might be less mindful on a regular basis to increase their daily activity. The headline of the article directly contradicts the point made by the study’s author: that the message should not be that wearables do not help with weight loss.
Perhaps one of the broader issues is that weight loss is predominantly associated with dietary changes. Fitness trackers focus on activity. As such, meeting fitness tracker goals (absent food monitoring) can lead to reduced weight losses as compared to those engaged in more comprehensive health and diet tracking.
The wristband toys given away in the fast food chain’s signature Happy Meals were intended to help get kids moving. Instead, the toys have gotten company officials racing to issue a recall after the devices were found to burn and irritate kids’ skin. So far, there have been 70 reports of injuries from the colorful gadgets, including seven reports of blistering burns.
Even dedicated fitness tracker companies have problems with their trackers. Fitbit, as an example, had to recall their fitness trackers a few years back because of manufacturing problems.
So while we should wonder what happened in this instance, I’d bet that it’s a combination of the low cost of the fitness trackers linked with relatively little testing to ensure there wasn’t nickle or other allergetic materials.
Jawbone’s hunger to sell itself is evidence of how dire the situation has become for one of leading wearable tech companies in the industry. Competitor Fitbit has managed to increase sales of its fitness trackers even with Apple participating. Jawbone, on the other hand, has seen its relevance in the market wither with time, as it’s transitioned from bluetooth audio products to wrist-worn fitness bands. Many other wearable makers, including Misfit and Basis, have sold themselves to large tech or apparel companies, and even giants like Nike have gotten out of the wearable hardware business. Jawbone’s fate may be similar, but it’s running out of time. According to The Information, Jawbone delayed payment to one of its business partners this month.
Jawbone is sitting on a lot of user information. While they sell physical things, I’m mostly interested in knowing the value of all the fitness information that will presumably be sold as part of the business.
For many years the digital health industry has been driven by wearable devices like the Fitbit, Nike’s Fuelband, and Jawbone’s Up. But if the titans of the smartphone industry succeed in creating a dominant platform for health and fitness data, this business could be in trouble. “A lot of the basic functions we have seen in fitness wearables — tracking your steps, taking your heart rate — those functions will become basic features on a smartphone or smartwatch,” says Wang.
As someone who’s worn one of these trackers for years now  and who is obsessive about carrying my smartphone, I cannot disagree more. My phone does rough calculation of how much I move every month and it’s routinely off by absolutely enormous magnitudes.  To some extent, that’s because the phone isn’t calibrated to precisely monitor how far I walk. To a greater extent, however, it’s because while I’m obsessive about keeping my phone around me it’s actually not on my person for about 30% of my movements each day. I don’t carry my phone at night when walking the dog, or necessarily when I’m wander around the building I work in.
For people who want just casual or ambient information about movement a smartphone might be fine. But anyone who is even moderately interested in tracking their activity for health reasons isn’t going to be willing to ‘guesstimate’ 1/3 of their day’s activity. The real power of smartphones is delivering information-rich notifications or aggregating data from a variety of sensors; it’s the software that they bring, first and foremost, that is their value add. And I think that for the fitness device companies to be successful they’ll need to develop powerful data mobilization schemes – you’ll need to be able to integrate data from the fitness hardware to any smartphone OS – to really capture significant portions of the market over the longer-term. I don’t buy the idea that people will keep buying sub-par products because the data is bound within a specific operating system or mobile phone ecosystem. Though, perhaps that’s just me as someone who hops between smartphone and smartphone OSes every 12–14 months.
I’ve lost a pair of Fitbits, returned another, and currently use a Jawbone UP 24. I bought my first Fitbit in April 2012. ↩
As an example, My Jawbone tracked me walking somewhere between 135–150 miles last month whereas Google suggested I walked just 30–40 miles. ↩
Kashmir Hill wrote an article last week about how Google Now is informing some Nexus owners of how active they have been over the past week. She rightfully notes that this is really just making transparent the tracking that smartphones do all the time, though putting it to (arguably) good and helpful use. This said, Google’s actions raise a series of interesting issues and questions.
To begin, Google’s actions are putting a ‘friendly face’ on locational tracking. Their presentation of this data also reveals some of the ways that Google can – and apparently is – using locational data: for calculating not just distance but, based on the rate of movement between locations, the means by which users are getting from point A to B. This isn’t surprising,given that Google has had to develop algorithms to determine if subscribers’ phones are moving in cars (in fast or slow traffic) for some of their traffic alerts systems. Determining whether you’re walking/biking instead of driving is presumably just a happy outcome of that algorithmic determination. That said: is this mode of analyzing movement and location necessarily something that users want Google to be processing? Can they have been genuinely expected to consent to this surveillance – barring in jargon-ridden Terms of Service and Privacy Policies – and, moreover, can Now users get both raw data and the categories into which their locational data has been ‘sorted’ by Google? Can they have both sets of data fully, and permanently, expunged from Google databases?
Friendliness – or not, if you see this mode of tracking and notification as problematic – aside, I think that Google’s alerts speak to the important role that ambient technology can play in encouraging public fitness. In the interests of disclosure, I’ve used a non-GPS-based system to track the relative levels of my activity for the past six or seven months. It’s been the single best $100 that I’ve spent in the past five years and led to very important, and positive, changes in my personal health. I specifically chose a non-GPS system because I worry about the implications of linking health/fitness information with where individuals physically move: I see such data as a potential gold mine for health insurers and employers. This is where I see the primary (from my perspective) concerns: how can individuals be assured that GPS-related fitness information won’t be made available to health insurers who are setting Android users’ health premiums? How can they prevent the information from leaking to employers, or anyone else that might have an interest in this data?
Past this issue of data flow control I actually think that making basic fitness information very, very clear to people is a good idea. A comfortable one? No, not necessarily. No one really wants to see how little they may have been active. But I’m not certain that this mode of fitness analysis is necessarily creepy; it can definitely be unpleasant, however.
Of course individuals need to be able to opt-out of this kind of tracking if they’d like. Really, it should be opt-in (from a privacy perspective) though from a public health perspective I can’t help but wonder if it shouldn’t be opt-out. This is an area where there are competing public goods, and unlike a debate around security and privacy (which tends to feature pretty drawn out, well entrenched, battle lines) I’m not sure we’ve had a good discussion about the nature of locational tracking as it relates to basic facets of public fitness and, by extension, public health.
In the end, this is actually a tracking technology that I’m largely on the fence about, and my core reason for having problems with it are (a) I don’t think people had any real idea that they had opted-in to the fitness analysis; (b) I don’t trust third-parties not to get access to this data for purposes at odds with the data subject’s own interests. If both (a) and (b) could be resolved, however, I think I’d have a much harder time disagreeing with such ‘fitness alerts’ being integrated with smartphones given the significant problems of obesity amongst Western citizens.