Brian Dunagan

September 9 2014
Novelty versus need – Fitbit and iWatch

I haven’t worn a watch in a decade. That might change with whatever revolutionary magical device from the future the iWatch turns out to be. Apple will unveil its wearable in four hours. But for the last five years, my only wearable device has been a Fitbit.

I pre-ordered one of the first ones back in June 2009, and I used it consistently for the first half of 2010. I walked 450 miles with it–875k steps burning 640k calories. Then I stopped. The novelty had worn off, and wearing it had become a chore. The first iteration of the device had three fatal flaws for my long-term use: remembering it, syncing it, and charging it.

Remembering – Seems obvious, but I needed to remember the device. When leaving the house, I had to remember my phone, my keys, my wallet, and then my Fitbit. A fourth completely unnecessary thing, just for a fancy pedometer. Same for running. I needed to remember to wear it and to sync it and to charge it.

Syncing – The first Fitbit had no Bluetooth. To sync it, I snapped it into its USB dock and plugged that into my Mac. Forgetting that meant no data.

Charging – That Fitbit’s battery life was several days. I suppose 5-day battery life was a feature, but in practice, it was infrequent enough to forget to do it but often enough to find a dead device every other week. It charged while plugged into the USB dock, so at least syncing and charging were the same action.

I wanted to like Fitbit, but the data just wasn’t that interesting for all the tasks I had to remember to get it. So I stopped remembering.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only early adopter, and Fitbit sold enough of the original tracker to make other models. I purchased a Fitbit Zip in December 2012, and I’ve used it consistently since then. It solved all three of my issues: attaches to my keys, wirelessly syncs to my phone, and lasts three months on a $2 removable battery. In the last 18 months, I’ve walked 4.5k miles-9.2m steps burning 1.9m calories. Yay.

But that’s it. Just “yay”. Fitbit’s data is interesting like the weather is interesting. Check the temperature by popping outside or launching the Weather app. Decide how far you’ve walked by guessing or launching the Fitbit app. I’ve never used Fitbit’s other features, like tracking caloric intake or sleep patterns. The data doesn’t affect my routines. Fitbit is still a novelty to me.


That’s the question for Apple’s iWatch. How does it go beyond a novelty? I use my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad every day, not for the sake of using them, but to do things. The current assortment of smart watches still seem geared toward early adopters, who are interested in the device itself rather than doing things with the device.

Apple has repeatedly come to market years after competitors with products that fundamentally change those market. There were computers before the Apple, music players before the iPod, phones before the iPhone, and tablets before the iPad; yet all of those markets are now dominated (at the consumer high end) by Apple’s products.

Those products solved problems. What will iWatch solve? I’m looking forward to the reveal in four hours.

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