Jawbone UP: magical devices (which begets an immediate wish list)

I’m one of those crazy bastards who loves to track all sorts of data about myself – what I eat, how well I digest it, which scary movies I’ve seen more than five times, how often I’ve listened to that embarrassing electronic-psytrance-chill group.

So I was a goner when I spotted the Jawbone UP in my last buzz through the Apple Store. Sara suggested it as an early birthday present to myself, which turned a normally-agonizing months-long decision into a two-minute mental debate over colour, size and which credit card to use.

The unboxing-and-configuration experience was a spiritual experience. Every design choice seemed to hit my endorphin button, from information design (what questions were asked for what little information they needed to convey or discover) to interaction design (nice simple choices laid out in a pleasing and effective manner) to great visual design (colours, sizing, contrast).

However, within a few days I started to itch for more – this feels like a device with so much potential, and it feels close enough for me to touch but teasingly just out of reach.

Sleep mode

sleep graph
I didn’t sleep so hot last night

Doesn’t seem to register those times when I’ve fully awakened but didn’t “get up”. I’ve had that experience at least once a night since getting this band, but only once in the first four nights did the band trigger that alert-but-still-lying-down state as “awake”. Since then I’ve seen more “orange slices” in my sleep, so maybe it’s tuning itself to my behaviour – or maybe I’m just thrashing more.

Steps while horizontal

lifeline steps
I am a couch-surfing master

I had an experience one morning where I never left the bed and yet registered 286 steps. How can that be? On another occasion, I checked the band before and after getting in the car and driving for half an hour, and no steps were registered – so obviously some types of movement scenarios are being done right.


Just as much of a PITA as any other calorie-counter app, but I’m not sure if that level of granularity is even ever going to be integrated into cool/insightful reports. The food log is a very rich database, but for someone like me who eats a lot of home-cooked food (due to my celiac and lactose intolerance, I can’t eat as much prepared food as my laziness would like), I end up having to make some pretty undesirable choices: (a) forgo the nutrition information entirely on a “custom entry in my food library”, (b) choose something that might be close from the available (but hard to preview) restaurant/commercial foods, or (c) just take ridiculous guesses as to the nutritional values of meals prepared from the fridge.

Smart Alarms

Why does the wake alarm still go off after I’ve switched UP to “I’m awake” mode? Isn’t this supposed to be meant to be a “smart alarm”, to wake me out of sleep? And have I not proven I’m awake by holding down the “mode switch” button for the required two continuous seconds? I find the silent alarm redundant and annoying for this reason, and after a couple of weeks I just gave up and turned it off – even though it would be brilliant to wake me at “the ideal time in my sleep cycle” on those rare occasions when I’m sleeping way past the time I should.

Sleep/awake button

What is the “correct” (by-design) expectation for when I should trigger the sleep mode: when I lie down? When I’m starting to feel sleepy? When I intend to try to get to sleep? I don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning from the “how long I was awake before sleep kicked in”, or whether it matters. Y’know what would be interesting? Graph of “time you crawled into bed vs. amount of time before you fell asleep”. That would tell me whether I’m really wasting time going to bed early or not (i.e. am I getting more sleep when lying down earlier, or does that only weakly correlate?).

Wish List

  • Provides me trend correlations to show how my mood correlates with sleep or food intakes (if any)
    Lets me input other qualitative markers on the graphs like “took a pill” (pain, anxiety, antacid)
  • Full data dumping: I took my band and a computer to a recent Quantified Self session, thinking we could hack on the rich data that the Lifeline seemingly keeps. However, what we got from the web site was a cryptic (terribly annotated) and heavily-edited data set – none of my meals or nutrient data, nothing I could see that captured my moods (especially not the custom labels that are so easy to add), no rich data showing my actual steps (not even in short-time-increment intervals like “how many steps in each 5-minute period”).
  • Community: I’d dearly love access to a community of UP wearers (e.g. online forum) to discuss, compare results, insights and guesses of what’s going on. Following a twitter hashtag isn’t nearly there.
  • Food library (1): how can I edit/delete an entry that I screwed up? I misread the Servings value on a jar of food, and now the Library entry there is forevermore going to be double what it should be (worse, because I combined it with a single-serving food – I created “peanut butter toast” as a one-click entry). Now I can either delete and re-create that entry and edit all previous meals, create another entry and try to remember which one to choose, or “dial the portion size” on the bad entry to an approximate value.
  • Food library (2): wouldn’t it be awesome to one-click copy a “meal” worth of nutritional-values-populated food from one meal (or one ‘team member’) to another? This one came from my partner – she’s furiously adding all the ingredients one by one for each meal so she gets accurate calorie, protein etc data. Now why couldn’t I “copy” her meal and add it to my own feed? I often eat the same thing she (or a friend who’s also part of my team) eats, but I don’t get any real “writeable/reusable” value out of that team membership.
  • Auto-interpolating sleep: UP has a manual toggle into “sleep” mode (telling my device when I’m sleeping), which forces me to either (a) toggle it as soon as I crawl into bed, so that I never forget, or (b) try to catch myself going to sleep just before I actually slip into unconsciousness [or risk losing the tracked sleep entirely]. I’d love for the UP to “sense” when I’m resting on my back and call it “sleeping” without me having to remember to toggle it back and forth. Heck, even if it recorded a session that wasn’t actually sleep, couldn’t I later “curate” my data to re-categorize the false positive?
  • Edge-case bug: Irritatingly, if I forget to switch it back to “awake” mode before plugging it in to dump its data to my phone, it turns out that the UP app doesn’t log that sleep as “sleep” but just as another form of activity. In other words, someone forgot to test and optimize for “what if the user plugs in their UP while the band still thinks the user is asleep?” I’m sure to the designers it sounds like a non-scenario, but it’s happened to me once already and I doubt it’ll be the last time.


A couple of months into bonding myself to this techno-upgrade, I killed it. Inadvertently, but still. I followed instructions, never immersing it fully under water, but instead took a nice long shower (officially endorsed by Jawbone) to refresh myself after a couple of weeks of bedrest. (That’s another story for another time.) Darned thing never responded to another button press again, and I can only believe that somehow its water resistance became less so.

So I dropped a note to the very polite and helpful folks at Jawbone support, who after supplying me with instructions for soft- and hard-reset (neither of which worked, but both of which were reassuring for future occasions when I might find myself painted into a firmware-not-hardware issue), shipped out a replacement band at their (warranty-amortized) expense.

They shipped it to me in an environmentally-sensitive envelope, but with not one iota of expectation-setting, preparation or documentation to let me know (a) if the replacement band needed to be charged [it did, it was dead] or (b) how to properly convince my UP app to forget about the old band and orient itself to a new one.  I dug around like a madman to find out if there was anything I should NOT do with a replacement band, and finding nothing I finally just synced it with the app and was pleasantly surprised at how little I had to do.

I remain a member of the UP clan.

celtic warriors

One thought on “Jawbone UP: magical devices (which begets an immediate wish list)

  1. Hey! Comments in general #1 I love the bead banner. Such beautiful torch-work! #2 I wish you had tags on these posts that way you could click on “drawing” for example and then track how you have progressed. #3 take pics of the sconces and get them up here 🙂 They are so good!


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