The Fitbit: Pedometer on Steroids? | Exercise Equipment & Gadgets

[ 9 ] October 2, 2008 |

Will the Fitbit change the way you look at diet and exercise and give the lowly pedometer a run for it’s money?

Watch out pedometer, you’re about to have some new competition from Fitbit.Image of Fitbit Tracker In Hand

It’s called the Fitbit Tracker and its inventors are hoping that it will change the way people view activity, exercise, diet and sleep.

FitBit is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Eric Friedman and James Park. The company recently debuted the Fitbit Tracker and supporting website at the TechCrunch 50 conference in San Francisco, a yearly event that allows entrepreneurs and start-ups to pitch their products to investors and the media. I caught wind of the FitBit through a colleague who attended the event.

The Fitbit: Better Than a Pedometer

Here’s how it works:

Like a pedometer, the Fitbit Tracker is a small wireless device  (about the size of a small pack of matches) that you can clip to your belt, pocket, pants, shirt, bra or wrist. The device uses motion sensing technology to precisely capture moment-to-moment physical activity across the day and night — things like steps taken, distance, exercise intensity, calories burned and sleep. The Fitbit Tracker then automatically transfers the data via a wireless connection to your home computer, where you can see a holistic view of your activity via a website.

While the Fitbit Tracker does all of the things that a traditional pedometer would do, it adds a new twist by also tracking your sleep — or lack thereof. This is an interesting concept, since a flurry of recent research has shown that sleep quantity and quality can have significant impact not only on your energy levels, but also your weight and life expectancy.  Image of the Fitbit Tracker in its Docking Station

The use of wireless to automatically connect your Fitbit Tracker to your computer and upload your activity information to the Fitbit website is particularly ingenious. 

One of the reasons many people don’t consistently keep track of their activity levels is because the process of recording that information is manual and tedious. Even if you’ve ditched the traditional paper exercise log or journal for an online health and fitness tracking site like TheDailyPlate.com, Diettv.com or FitDay, you still have to manually enter your information each day. And you are still tied to a paper log at the gym.

While the Fitbit Tracker won’t keep track of details like exercises performed, reps, sets and weight; it will help you more accurately record and track your calories-burned during these activities. And more importantly, it makes transferring this data to your tracking site a breeze.



The Fitbit Website: Track It All

The Fitbit website is where you track all of your vital workout, activity, sleep and exercise statistics. Think of it as your personal health, fitness and wellness dashboard.

The Fitbit dashboard lets you log your food and activities, as well as track your weight against a set of goals. There is also a community aspect to the Fitbit, although exactly what that is isn’t clear, since the website won’t launch until the end-of-the-year.Image of Fitbit Exercise, Nutrition and Wellness Portal

The company hints that you’ll be able to collaborate on your fitness goals with friends, family and co-workers through the community feature on the Fitbit website. Based on this, I would expect some type of goal and advice-sharing aspect, similar to what you might find on a Wellsphere or in some of the other online fitness and food tracking communities. This isn’t a new idea, but even sites that have been offering this type of collaborative community still have a long way to go to realize it’s potential. It will be interesting to see how Fitbit develops out their social networking and community support apps.

Fitness Technology Goes Mainstream

Fitbit is just one of the latest companies offering high-tech products that cater to fitness and health enthusiasts.

Recent interest in Wii fitness has sent inventors and fitness equipment manufacturers scrambling to find more ways to bring technology and the internet together with fitness and wellness, so I would expect to see additional products on the market in the coming months.

Fitbit isn’t the first company to offer this type of gadget.  In 2005, Apex Fitness debuted a similar device called the Bodybugg, which is also an amped up digital pedometer. Like the Fitbit Tracker, the Bodybugg also enables you to track your activity and calories burned and download the information to the Bodybugg website.

Since the Fitbit won’t be available for purchase until December or early January, I haven’t been able to compare the two products head-to-head in the real-world to see how they stack-up to each other.

So far, it looks like the folks at Fitbit are trying to differentiate themselves from Bodybugg on price. The Fitbit Tracker will retail for $99 — or about the price of a video Flip or iPod shuffle. Access to the Fitbit website is included.  The Bodybugg, on the other hand, retails for between $250 and $350 dollars, depending on the “package” you choose.

Fitbit appears to be trying to keep the product in the under-$100 category, which will be critical if they want this to have mass market appeal. While I’ve heard very positive things about the Bodybugg from people who have used it, the price is just too high to be appealing to most people.  

What Could Be Next for the Fitbit?

One of the ways you can recognize a good product or idea is how easily you can envision extending it.

Because of the wireless capabilities of Fitbit, I can see all kinds of potential feature enhancements and additional products or accessories that could sprout up around the core Fitbit Tracker product and site.

For instance, imagine a wireless, electronic Fitbit food scale that would automatically send portion and calorie data into the Fitbit. Since food data still needs to be entered manually into any food tracking website, the Fitbit seems like a natural “bridge” for making this easier.Image of Fitbit Attached to Pocket of Jeans

Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos has been talking for sometime now about the opportunities for mobile phone cameras to be used as “bar code readers” on products, allowing people to price compare products at the point of purchase via a mobile browser (indeed, this technology already exists.)

While the Fitbit currently doesn’t have any type of infrared scanner on it, imagine if it did. Product SKUs on things like cartons of cottage cheese or loaves of bread are universal. If the Fitbit could scan barcodes on food and cross-reference them against an online database of foods, tracking your diet would become a breeze. Paired with a Fitbit wireless food scale, you could get very accurate info on what you are eating daily, as well as portion without manually having to enter the food into the Fitbit dashboard.

And as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology become more pervasive, I could see some other wild and innovative applications of the Fitbit product.  For example, Fitbit might work with a major fitness equipment manufacturer or even gyms to “tag” common equipment with RFID transponders so that the actual exercises that you are performing or machines you are using automatically track your exercise routines.

There are some interesting integration options with mobile phones and devices, as well — especially with the growing ubiquity of BlueTooth. Obviously, this is a longer-term play, but it’s certainly intriguing and would take a lot of the manual processes out of tracking exercise.

It also will be interesting to see if Fitbit has plans to partner up with any of the other online exercise and food tracking websites like TheDailyPlate or Diettv.com to provide people with a method to upload Fitbit tracker data into these sites. It would seem fairly simple to create a small plugin application to allow you to choose where you want to send your data. This may help Fitbit grab market share more quickly, since they could offer a small discount on the Fitbit Tracker to users of these other food tracking portals.

The founders of Fitbit are smart guys, with a lot of technology experience, so I have to think they are already thinking about these kinds of things.

Bottom line is that the winner of this market segment will be the one who figures out how to effortless bring all of the online and offline pieces of exercise and food tracking together through a single device, much in the same way that iPod did with online music.

How Can I Get The Fitbit?

The Fitbit Tracker is slated to go on sale in December or early-January 2009.  The company is currently taking advanced orders for the Fitbit, or you can simply sign-up  on their site to receive notification when the Fitbit becomes available for purchase. The Fitbit will retail for $99.99. No word yet on whether the Fitbit will only be available online, or whether the company also plans to retail it through brick-and-mortar sporting goods stores.

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Category: Exercise Equipment, Fitness and Exercise Gadgets

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Leader of the Best Internet Marketing Team in the World By Day, Fitness Nerd By Night.

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  1. healthranker.com | October 2, 2008
  1. Best Pedometers (1 comments) says:

    Great article- Fitbit is the pedometer of the future. Can’t wait until it comes out, hopefully in time for the holidays.

  2. FitFiend (1 comments) says:

    Sorry, can you explain how this “accurately” tracks calories burned? Haven’t gotten to use it, but it sounds like it measures calories burned like a treadmill or elliptical would, which, as most people realize, is totally inaccurate.

  3. Matt (194 comments) says:

    Fitfiend, great question.

    I’m going to actually reach out directly to the Fitbit people to find out. My assumption is they are using the motion sensor in the Fitbit to calculate movement, and then bounce that off against your age and weight.

    In terms of the accuracy of calories-burned on treadmills and elliptical machines at gyms, it really depends on how well-calibrated they are and whether the machine allows you to put in age, gender and weight data.

    If the machine takes age, weight and gender into consideration, the calories-burned will be much more accurate. If the machine doesn’t ask for this, it will use an average weight and age to do the calculation, which will over-report calories burned if your actual weight is less than what’s used to calculate the energy expenditure, and under-report if you weigh more.

  4. Foxxy (1 comments) says:

    Interesting question about the accuracy. I saw your talk here of the bodybugg and also was looking at the gowear fit. Both reference clinical studies showing accuracy of 90%. Do you think fitbit will have any real data to prove its not just a pedometer? It currently seems like a higher price point then most pedometers and I don’t see the big difference. I guess I can get my hands on both and evaluate from there, do you plan on doing this at some point too?

  5. Matt (194 comments) says:

    Foxxy, I’m with you on being curious about the accuracy of the Fitbit (or Bodybugg and Gowear, for that matter.)  

    I’m trying to get my hands on some kind of Beta version of the Fitbit before the holidays, since I’d like to actually try it out first hand, versus just relying on what I read on the Fitbit website. I have a call into their media people, but so far, no response. I’m going to try to follow up with an email this week to see if that can break something loose.

    Gowear is really fascinating. I’ll probably just order some of it and see how it performs.  I have anecdotal feedback on the Bodybugg by some people at the gym who use it, and they are overall really positive on it. But it’s quite expensive, and is really tied in tight with the Apex system.

    I think the real differentiator here around the Fitbit is it’s wireless capabilities. Assuming the data it’s collecting is relatively accurate, what makes this most interesting to me is the small size, and the fact that it automatically downloads your data to your personal Fitbit site when you get in range of your wireless network. That gets you out of the manual process of plugging into a cradle or your USB port to download your vital stats into whatever tracking program comes with your digital pedometer (providing the digi pedometer even has a tracking application with it — many don’t … or they are rudimentary.)

    This really seems to be the Fitbit’s "secret sauce." Personally, I think their device get’s even more interesting if they can make an open API available to allow people to develop conduits to automatically download their data into other third-party fitness tracking systems like Fitday, Traineo, Gyminee or Daily Plate.

    So to answer your question directly, yes, I want to do a head-to-head on all of these devices in a single review. I’m just waiting for the Fitbit to become available so I can do that. I will compare it to a lower-cost digital pedometer as well.

    Stay tuned!

  6. Stephen (3 comments) says:

    Truly brilliant. I do wonder about the accuracy.

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