About a year ago this time, I test drove a Jawbone UP bracelet and then went out and bought one of my own, even though I had seen the original red flag. David Pogue, who was still head gadget guide (and test tech driver) at the New York Times then, had raised the issue about the microphone jack on your iPhone as possibly not the best way to download the data the bracelet was collecting. Pogue sneered at this low-tech transfer mechanism saying that wireless is obviously a better way to deal with transmission. But he admitted what other critics had observed, that the UP software (like the hardware) on the bracelet, is well-designed, easy-to-read and fun.
Additional evidence, if I really needed more, included my son’s mother-in-law’s story about almost losing her pin-on Fit Bit (UP's closest competitor) as she went through the airport metal detector. My track record on losing small accessories like earrings and once an actual diamond out of an engagement ring was not too good. And then there was my store experience. Best Buy seemed to have more Fit Bits on the shelf after Mother’s Day than Jawbone UPs, which suggests that maybe the sales were better on the UPs. (Of course, this is ridiculous. Both device bracelets and pins sold very well. In fact, my son's mother-in-law had gotten her device as a Mother's Day present from her son. The price was the same no matter if you bought it in an expensive gadget shop in O’Hare Airport, a chain store, Amazon or on Jawbone’s web site: $129.99).
I was so happy with my UP bracelet that I got one for my husband for his birthday in July. So we could compare our sleep records with our activity records and possibly at some point our calorie-consuming records. He was the first person in the family to lose the cover for the phone jack plug. But I was delighted you could order three replacement caps for $9 plus postage and handling from Jawbone.
By the time I took off my bracelet to go through security at the O'Hare in September I had completely forgot about my son's mother-in-law's story. I also completely forgot about my Up bracelet until hours after I arrived in New Orleans later on that day. I had been warned. I was frantic and in an effort to keep the loss a secret from my husband---who had much better sleep statistics, while I consistently had much better activity records---I went to the Best Buy in NOLA and was able to get another UP bracelet exactly like the original. So I was able to carry on just as I had been, acting like chronic insomnia had no adverse affects on my health and beating him out on activity, especially on weekends. But he could sure out-sleep me any day.
Even while watching television, which you have to agree is most old-man-like. I wouldn’t be caught dead falling asleep in front of the television.
Then one day, long after David Pogue was gone from his NYT post, his ghost came back to haunt us. Without much warning, in the dead of winter, the day came when my UP bracelet quit downloading. I restarted it, re-charged it, and re-downloaded the app, but nothing worked. The light with the little sun and the little moon just stopped vibrating and disappeared. Within days, my husband’s bracelet quit too. In the case of his, something happened to the plug. Either the rubber had stretched out or the plug had receded in the case, but whatever happened the cap wouldn’t snap back on. The plug was busted, probably on both the bracelets.
In distress and alarm I turned to Google. There I found out that the UP bracelets were dropping like flies. In fact, dead UPs were hitting epidemic levels. The Jawbone people, who had an excellent reputation in the speaker business to protect, were freaking out. Not only had the price of the original Jawbone UPs dropped to $99, as though to confirm David Pogue’s guru status, his prediction of what Jawbone should have invented in the first place, a wireless UP, had magically appeared. The next generation UPs cost $199.99 and seemed to come in a wider variety of colors although by that time I was thinking more like beige or nude, which didn’t seem to be available yet. Maybe I could convince someone like David Pogue to write about designer colors when I got over my shock at the sudden failure.
Meanwhile, back at the dead UPs: There were numbers to call and people to talk to and so that’s how I ended up talking to a wonderful customer service representative named Wanda. Wanda listened patiently to my story of love, loss and broken plugs. She was very sympathetic. Considering she probably was listening to similar stories every 10-15 minutes all day long I couldn’t imagine how she could still be so nice. Her analysis was swift on the situation with my husband’s receding bracelet plug cover. Obviously defective. She probed slightly more about how many times and what exactly I had done in trying to reset my own bracelet and after careful consideration she pronounced my UP dead as well. "after all you've been through," she said, she owed it to me to make this right. She would be putting two replacements in separate mailings with pouches for us to return the bracelets that were no longer viable. It seems like the new UPs materialized instantly and I was asking myself, why had I waited an eternity to make that phone call?
My new UP works fine and it usually downloads on the first try, although I have restarted my phone a couple of times to prompt the sync to get moving. But, let’s face it; I should restart my phone more often on general principle right? It’s an iPhone and my husband has no trouble downloading his new UP on his old iPad even though you would think the Samsung tablet he got for Christmas would have the software by now. And maybe it does. I never check on that stuff until after the fact. I have enough to worry about without wondering if my UP bracelet is going to fall into a coma again.
So I am happy to once again be reassured about my activity level and distressed about why I can’t get enough deep sleep most nights. And I am slowly trying to get back to working with MyFitnessPal, which has a dumb name but interfaces with the UP bracelet beautifully, knows about and remembers me from goal-setting and eat habits of the past. The program also knows that when I was keeping up with my food diary, I did take off about 15 pounds.
But of all the near disasters of this winter for me, the never-working-out- much-more-than-once-a-week was the worst. Like everyone in the Midwest, my normal commute was too exhausting and discouraging to provide the extra push to get on a treadmill, at least Monday through Friday whether there was a snowstorm or not.
The bottom line is that these bracelets make great gifts for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Worst case scenario: your parents find out about their undiagnosed insomnia or that their eating habits are even worse than you could have ever imagined. Best case, of course, they have so much fun keeping track of their health habits that they actually end up looking and feeling better. Wow!
The two big players in the market remain UP---of course, I would now go for the wireless generation if I were going to start from scratch---and Fit Bit. Nike has dropped its dabbling and Garmin, the GPS maker, is launching a fitness product any minute.