Three Fitness Trackers Reflect Ups and Downs of Wearables Market

Jawbone Up, Nike FuelBand SE and Misfit Shine All Mirror the Category’s Immaturity

Over the past five months I’ve had the chance to try out several fitness trackers. Here I look at the three I thought were most interesting: the Jawbone Up, Misfit Shine and Nike’s FuelBand SE.


Although these devices fall under the same category of fitness trackers (which we group in the “quantified self” category in our wearables research), each takes its own approach to features and offers a different experience. None of them is perfect, but I think each excels at some things despite failing to impress with others.

Device and User Interface

Design. As these devices are supposed to be worn on your wrist, they have to be aesthetically pleasing, small and comfortable to wear through the day and night. The Jawbone Up and Misfit Shine are great examples of flexible and well-designed pieces of wrist-wear, but I found the FuelBand very stiff and uncomfortable.

Instant feedback. The FuelBand is an excellent example of how to get the information you need from a fitness tracker. Users can glance at its LED display or, for an in-depth breakdown, track their activities in real time on an iPhone thanks to the band’s Bluetooth connection. Jawbone’s latest version of the Up band also supports Bluetooth syncing, but we’ve not had chance to evaluate it yet.

Battery. Having to worry about charging another piece of technology is something I dread. The Jawbone Up and Nike FuelBand last for about a week, which at the moment seems to be the average for fitness trackers. The Shine is the exception: running on a cell battery, it promises four months of use, which is very impressive considering its tracking and Bluetooth capabilities. The downside of this is that there’s no way to tell that you need to change the battery until it runs out.

Build. The Misfit Shine seems the most rugged of the three; it’s fully waterproof, so it can be safely worn in the shower, bath and swimming pool and at the beach.

Activity Tracking

Basic tracking. All three devices performed equally well in tracking basic activities such as walking and running when worn on the wrist. For more specific activities such as cycling, Misfit recommends wearing the Shine on an ankle for more accurate tracking.

Activity tagging. I found the Misfit Shine difficult to use when tagging certain activities — with no buttons, the device is operated by tapping, and there’s no way to end an activity or check its status. Having full control of your device must be easy, and the Up and FuelBand manage this well.

Sleep Tracking

Detailed tracking. The Jawbone Up and Misfit Shine track light and deep sleep phases, but the FuelBand falls short here as it’s only capable of tracking sleep duration. The ability to see trends in your sleeping pattern is important in pushing you to change your sleeping habits for the better.

Smart alarm. As detailed in my previous blog post, this is my favourite feature of fitness trackers, and of the Jawbone Up itself.

Supporting App

Useful information. Data gathered by these devices is useless unless the app presents the findings in an appealing and useful manner. Jawbone’s Up app does an excellent job of displaying trends and recognising patters in activity while providing tailored daily insights, as pictured below.


Units of measurement. Most pedometers and fitness trackers use step counting as the measurement of activity. This means that a group of friends with a range of devices can compare their stats and motivate each other. This isn’t the case with the FuelBand, which uses its own Fuel Points system. This makes it difficult for FuelBand users to compare their activity levels with friends who have other fitness trackers.

Android compatibility. Jawbone released the Up app for Android in March and the Misfit Shine, a relatively new device, has also recently gained an Android app. These apps are not as polished as their iOS counterparts, but nevertheless manage to address the sizable market demand. The FuelBand, however, only supports iOS devices despite the original FuelBand being released in early 2012.

Social integration. Having a good social feed is arguably the best way to keep users engaged with a fitness device. The FuelBand has always been focussed on the “gamification” of user activities, and the app has built up a sizable community which allows users to connect, compete and unlock achievements. I’ve noticed Jawbone and Misfit pushing the social features of their devices more and more recently.

Having tried multiple devices, I feel there are some key aspects that would combine to make the perfect wearable fitness tracker. Unobtrusive and comfortable design is critical because it’s worn constantly and mustn’t get in the way of daily tasks. Instant feedback is a real bonus as it helps motivate me to meet the goals I’ve set myself. Interactions with the device should be minimal — for example, the device should be able to automatically recognise when I’m going to sleep or for a jog. Being fully waterproof minimises chances of damaging or forgetting it, and its app should clearly display my performance and connect me with friends and family using the device.

None of these three devices matches all these criteria. As I’ve noted in my previous piece on the Autographer wearable camera, wearables belong to a nascent segment of mobile technology. Standards haven’t yet been established for all features. These three devices illustrate the experimentation that’s taking place — each device has the potential to bring something new and raise the bar for the market.