You Took 6 Steps Today: The Wonderful World of Wearable Workout Bracelets

Earlier this spring, I wrote about my new Nike workout bracelet. It was a new experience for me. It looks like a rubberized bracelet somebody would wear at fundraiser, but when you press a button on it, it tells you how much you moved around that day by showing you the total number of points you had “earned” so far since the day began at 12:01 a.m. It wasn’t clear if this number was how many steps you took or how much sweat you created or how fast your heartbeat was, and they weren’t telling you. It was like the recipe for Coca-Cola, a Nike secret.

What they did tell you, in the online software that came with it, was that this was their “fuel number” and for a person your age (enter your age), the average fuel number achieved by midnight was so and so. Choose a higher number and make that your “goal.” I did that.

And then on my second day, I reached my goal and the word GOAL! flashed on my bracelet and blinking lights resembling confetti sprinkled down. Then it told me my score. Over goal. Online—when I slid the end of my bracelet into the computer’s USB port, the software would show me the “trophy” I’d won for meeting my goal. Later, I found out they kept all my online trophies in my trophy room.

I love this bracelet. Later, when I had many trophies, I’d go online and show people my trophy room. It was filled not only with trophies but also banners and boxing gloves with a goal achieved written on it. But the main thing is, it helped get me up off my butt and running around, particularly after 11 p.m. when I was about to go to bed but noticed that if I did a little walking and running around (wait, wife) I could get the goal confetti to come down.

Over dinner at Nick & Toni’s two months ago, I saw that the woman next to me had a bracelet like mine, but slightly different. It was a bit thinner and had an overlap, not a clasp. I asked her what it was.

“It’s a Jawbone,” she said. This is a competitor to the Nike. So we compared. I explained mine, and, of course, offered to take her to the trophy room, and she explained hers, which, it turned out, hooked up to her cellphone rather than her computer, and not by the USB port wire but by Bluetooth, which is wireless. She got out her phone and showed me how her day of workout was going, at that moment. There were numbers and bar graphs. I asked her if she had a trophy room, and she didn’t. I asked her if it told the time on her wrist, which it did on mine, if you pressed the button twice quickly. It didn’t.

Pressing the button for time was a big deal for me. I’m a Type-A personality, and with a wristwatch on, I glance at it all the time. But here with the Nike, I press the button twice and there it is, glowing from inside what looks like a bracelet. I do not appear to be a man wearing a wristwatch.

But then we talked further. This is a great way to meet people, comparing bracelets. And she showed me that you can monitor sleep with it. It shows awake time by exact time, light sleep time, deep sleep time, total hours in bed, percent of goal, all sorts of things. I loved that. Nike tells you nothing about your sleep. It doesn’t have a sleep mode. It seems to think you’re up 24 hours a day, chugging away, waiting for midnight.

I know this is going to sound stupid, but I now wear my Nike on one wrist and the Jawbone, only at night, on the other. Because Nike gives you “points” while you sleep (and a lot of points means you were tossing and turning,) and because I can see the time glow all hours of the night, I wear that all the time. The Jawbone comes off in the morning. And I set it on the night table.

The Nike really just does its goal confetti thing…but the Jawbone sends messages to your phone all the time to encourage you.

One afternoon, the Jawbone said, “You walked only 6 steps so far today. Tomorrow set a goal of walking 12 steps. You’ll feel so much better.” This is from an outfit that wants 9,000 steps a day.

Since the Jawbone sits on the night table all day, this had to either have been the housekeeper bumping the table with the vacuum cleaner or a 3.1 earthquake. But then I thought about it more.

What encouragement! I think the people at Jawbone must have concluded by now that I am either in rehab or a wheelchair, since for many weeks now during the day, I only take a step or two. “Nurse, he’s ready to double the number of steps today to 12. Tell me how he does. Go for it.”

“Yes, doctor.”

Jawbone says its okay for me to eat chocolate, but only dark chocolate. Yesterday it reminded me that in retirement, President Truman would walk six miles every morning and he lived to be 98.

Jawbone is like a trainer with a whistle around his neck. Nike is like a cheerleader in a short skirt and two pom-poms. Go, Dan, go.

In recent days there has been a lot of news about this stuff. There were rumblings about a month ago that the big boys, Google and Microsoft, or Yahoo and Apple, or maybe Samsung or Amazon, were going into the “wearable lifestyle” business.

Just the name change is significant. It’s to be not just bracelets, but something attached to your ankle or a nose ring, if you have a nose ring. Or something. And it’s not just about working out, it’s going to be about calorie counting or shopping or whatever.

The first big announcement was that Nike was bowing out. They are a shoe company. They let go 70% of the people in the bracelet division. They’d keep the current bracelet and give current customers support, but there would be no new advances in the product. Wow, I thought, someday my bracelet will be an antique and very valuable. Hah.

The next announcement was that Apple is going to jump into the “wearable” market and this is going to be their new big thing. But it will also include music and video-streaming services, so if you want to buy something, go right ahead.

Now Amazon has announced it’s coming out with a new product that will be a cellphone-sized Kindle on which you can talk and text and do emails and, for example, if you’re looking for oat flour online, the phone will notice and, as you drive along, tell you, “There’s a place that sells oat flour half a mile ahead on your right,” and then name the store.

There’s going to be no getting away from all this, unless you are willing to refuse to tell your phone (or friends) anything about yourself and have decided to just say no to everything.

It reminds me of a long-time-ago joke. It goes like this. “I know a guy who every year on January 1 gets rid of all his friends and gets a new set of friends. But I don’t know if he’s doing that this year because I haven’t been able to reach him since January.”

BACK TO Dan Rattiner's Stories