As we roll toward the end of the year, we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. 2014 is coming!!! It is the year I’m going to be more conscious about self-tracking. Yes, I know it sounds crazy and obsessive (and maybe it is) but I’m a librarian and I think data is cool! You know that some of us already track food using apps like Lose it and MyFitnessPal so this post will focus on activity devices and apps.
Self-tracking and using data are part of a new movement called Quantified Self (QS). This movement creates new opportunities to promote consumer engagement in health and wellness. There is not a generally accepted definition of “Quantified Self” however; Wikipedia states “QS is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical).” The most concise definition can be found at http://quantifiedself.com, which has the tagline of “self knowledge through numbers.”
The QS movement has gained prominence due to the number of patient and consumer friendly technologies readily available. We have posted previously on Fitbit so you may be familiar with that device already but there are other comparable devices. These technologies track steps taken, sleep patterns, or calories burned. Tracking devices have several similar features so in addition to reviewing standard features, differences in the most popular activity tracking devices are highlighted: Fitbit, Body Media, Jawbone, Nike+™ FuelBand, and the new Basis B1 Band. All of these devices track the number of steps taken and calories burned. In addition to these measurements, Fitbit, Body Media, Jawbone and Basis track sleep patterns and sleep efficiency. Each tracking device offers a suite of complementary web applications or mobile apps allowing the user to upload data from their device. Additionally, some devices have a built in display. The Fitbit Force can display steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and stairs climbed. The Body Media family of armband devices does not have a built-in display but there is an optional display device that wirelessly communicates with the armband to show you calories burned, steps taken, and activity as it happens. The display also alerts you when daily targets are met features armband data from today and yesterday. The Nike+™ FuelBand has a minimal display that tracks steps taken and calorie burned. One of the latest entrants into this market is the Basis B1 Band. Distinctive features of this device are measurement of optical blood flow (heart rate data), perspiration, skin temperature, and gamification (the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage individuals in healthy habits).
Some device makers offer specialized services, e.g. Lark a sleep tacking device which helps people understand and enhance their sleep quality through monitoring and online counseling. This device is unique from the other devices previously mentioned that track sleep patterns since it features a wristband that wakes the user silently and gently with vibration. More recently, Lark recently released the Lark Life, which is comparable to the Fitbit family of devices feature-wise.
These devices range in price from $60 – $200, with some requiring additional monthly fees to access a Web dashboard interface to data and counseling.
In addition to these tracking devices, there are several activity-tracking apps for smartphones. For example, activity-tracking running apps include the popular Runkeeper and Map My Run. Both are mature apps and provide distance, calories burned, maps using a Smartphone’s GPS, social features and goal setting. The social features of the running apps allow individuals to motivate friends and share running routes. The goal setting features act like a personal trainer by setting up a training plan to run anything from a 5k to a marathon. Moves similar to the running apps, tracks additional activities such as walking and cycling, using the smartphone’s ability to measure movements (e.g., accelerometer) and is less intrusive. The app runs in the background continuously and tracks everything the individual does with his smartphone in tow. The app displays the distance, duration, steps, and calories burned for each activity.
More specialized apps focus on specific activities. In addition to the LARK sleep-tracking device noted above, free or very low cost sleep tracking apps with similar features include Sleep As Android, Sleep Cycle, and SleepBot.
While all these devices and apps help consumers establish healthy habits and quantify their lives, there is a lot of room for improvement in the interoperability of data between these different devices and apps. Despite the issues… I am still choosing to quantify myself in 2014. Will you join me?