My mom got a Fitbit Flex for Mother’s Day. Apparently, these wristbands are highly coveted by a much broader audience than I originally assumed. I expected the younger, health-conscious, gadget-geeks; the fitness junkies who are training for marathons; the serious adventure types who can’t sit still. I did not expect a group of 60-80 year old women, but after thinking further about their interests – they’re a perfect segment to target! These women are deeply interested and invested in health and wellness. They go to the gym and attend physical activity classes at least 3-4 times a week. They blend fresh fruit and veggie smoothies, take nutritional supplements, spend hundreds on skin care products, read Dr. Weil and email articles about the health benefits of lemons. They’ve likely used a pedometer and own a blood pressure monitor. They’re not tech savvy, but they understand how to use the Internet, email and apps for video streaming. iPads are their computing device of choice for their ease of use.
I don’t own any wearable tech yet (I’m holding out for a watch, which I expect more to be launched towards Q3 2014), but I do consider myself handy with computers and gadgets. After some research, we chose the Fitbit Flex because of its sleek design, lower price, and feature set. I, of course, was the chosen one to setup mom’s new Fitbit. After the unboxing, I immediately downloaded the Fitbit app to her iPad as instructed by the little piece of paper smaller than a sticky note (I appreciate Fitbit’s conservation of paper). Upon launching the app I was asked to enter personal stats like height, weight, and birthdate. The UI was easy and kind of fun to use. Once I created an account, the app walked me through how to access the Fitbit’s tracking unit, charge it, and slide it back into the wristband. So far, so good. Once charged, mom put the Fitbit on and we synced the wristband with her iPad. We had some difficulty strapping the Fitbit to her wrist the first time, but it was no problem thereafter. We were ready to dive in and start using the features. That’s where the onboarding experience fell apart. Here’s why:
In an era where user experience professionals are striving to design intuitive products, there is a fine line particularly with new tech which I would argue requires more hand holding and explicit instruction. Fitbit puts too much weight on the user to discover features, and as a result I believe it fails in guiding the user to see the device’s full potential and value. Case in point, once we connected the band with the iPad we were left wondering “now what?” My mom fairly had a list of questions such as: What do the five dots on the band mean? How do I track my sleep? How do I set a goal? How do I know if I reached my goal? Can it tell if I’m doing Tai-Chi vs. Zumba exercise? The app answered none of these questions. I was forced to visit the Help/FAQ section of their website, which wasn’t mobile-optimized for reading on iPad. Rather than sending us straight to the app’s dashboard to tap around and figure it out as we go, we both would have preferred the app teach us new features gradually through prompts and by presenting diagrams that illustrated how they work. For example, Fitbit could have started by asking what her primary goal is. Once the goal is set, then Fitbit could have presented an initial recommendation plan on how to achieve those goals: “You need N steps and need to burn N calories per day.” Next, tell us how to track her goal: “Your Fitbit band has indicator lights which will illuminate as you progress towards your goal. Tap your Flex to see your progress. When you reach your goal, Flex will vibrate and flash it lights.” Then, the app could have guided us on how to log her activities, log her food, and track her sleep. Note, all of this information exists in the Help/FAQ section of their website, but my point is they need to surface this information in a concise way in the app to better onboard users. They can always provide a “skip” option for more advanced users who don’t need a tutorial.
It will be the day when wearables like Fitbit can scan and sniff what you’re eating. In the meantime, you have to manually enter what you eat to best track calorie intake and calories burned. The Fitbit allows you to save foods that you eat regularly, but the process is still cumbersome and time consuming. The food library and serving size choices could also be improved, and it would be cool if Fitbit could integrate with restaurants for days when you dine out.
Our biggest gripe was less with the food and water tracker though, and more with the sleep and activity tracker. You have to manually tap the Fitbit band when you’re going to sleep and waking up. This is a problem for my mom because she often falls asleep on the couch while watching Netflix. She has also forgotten to tap the band when she wakes up. As a result, she can’t accurately track her sleep patterns.
The other issue is activity tracking. My mom is also involved in a variety of fitness activities including Tai-Chi, Zumba, weight lifting and cardio on the elliptical machine. The Fitbit is only optimized for walking, running and general household activity. In order to increase accuracy, you must manually log other activities like Tai-Chi and Zumba into the app. Even with manual input, the numbers don’t seem too accurate. In fact, they’re quite low.
As sensory technology improves, I expect the sleep and activity features to become more automatic and precise. In the meantime, there’s a lot of manual input still required for these devices to be useful. With that said, the Fitbit app and band should do a better job of working together to remind you to manually enter this info daily and be noted as part of the onboarding process.
I like how the Fitbit Flex automatically syncs to your mobile devices and desktop (a dongle is included to connect to your PC). However, the iOS app seems like a feature-trimmed down version of the website/desktop app. For example, you have to visit the website to see additional graphs like calories in vs. calories out, personalized goals, and badges earned. The issue is my mom exclusively uses an iPad. I find companies often make the mistake of cutting features down in mobile apps. In Fitbit’s case, I think it should be a 1:1. Even with a clean UI, the features of the iOS app are just not on par with the PC experience.
I’d like to see the onboarding experience personalized by the type of goal selected. I’d also like to see personalized recommendations based on mom’s data overtime, her behavioral and contextual cues, and set goal. For example, it’s a warm sunny night at 7PM, Fitbit knows mom is at home, just ate dinner, and is just shy on her steps goal for the day, so Fitbit could prompt her to take a walk around her two neighborhood blocks to achieve her goal. Fitbit should be an AI wellness and fitness coach that tells my mom if she is doing the right type of exercise and doing it properly (note: Moov, a new activity tracker launching this year is on this path). Fitbit should measure other dimensions such as blood pressure and glucose levels and tell mom if she should cut down on some foods since she’s diabetic. Fitbit and other activity trackers are still in their infancy, but these types of outputs would make the data more meaningful than just pretty charts. I expect with new sensory tech and major companies investing in health and wearable tech (e.g., Apple’s recent announcement of HealthKit), we’ll get there soon. For now, the Fitbits of the world are just a small step up from the original pedometer.