Nike+ FuelBand: The wearable fitness computer

The Nike+ FuelBand is a wearable fitness product that tracks your activity throughout the day and records your progress over time.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

Last week I wrote about the glut of "smart watches" that are coming to market and how it's a category that Apple practically invented (with the diminutive iPod nano), but has all but left for dead.

Another wearable category worth watching is fitness products, glorified pedometers really, that track your activities during the day and report on calories expended and the like. I've been testing the Nike+ FuelBand for a couple of days ($149, S and M in stock) and have to admit to being completely enamored by it.

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FuelBand is an accelerometer-based activity monitor that manifests itself as a wristband. It tracks your movement throughout the day and reports your "NikeFuel" score (a metric based on your rate of motion and oxygen consumption), number of calories burned and steps taken. It's far from an exact science and the somewhat arbitrary "fuel" score should only be used as an estimate. But it's a useful estimate that can be compared from day to day.

FuelBand can be synced with the corresponding iOS app (free, App Store) by pressing and holding the button and its ingenious clasp opens to revel a USB port that plugs into your Mac for charging and syncing your fuel data. It comes in several sizes (S, M and L) and is surprisingly comfortable to wear, although it takes a little getting used to at first.

FuelBand isn't terribly precise, for example moving your hands a lot is misconstrued as steps and can overstate your activity. Alternatively, FuelBand undercounts activity on bikes when your upper body is stable but your lower body is active (say, peddling). But again, if you just use it as an estimate and don't place too much stock in it, it's actually quite fun. It's pretty motivating to press the button throughout the day and check your progress and a nice animation notifies you when you've reached a pre-determined goal.

It's a great start and I can't wait to see what Nike has up its sleeves for FuelBand 2.0. Here's my short list of features that I'd like to see:

  • Buttonless - Leverage the accelerometer for "wake on lift." Instead of having to press a button to read the display I want it to turn on when I lift my wrist. Obviously, this will need a threshold setting so that it doesn't turn on accidentally and drain the battery.

  • Heart Rate Monitor - It's attached to my wrist so why not track my heart rate? This would also allow it to add more weight to activity when my heart rate is up (and presumably working out) as opposed to drinking in the bar. Plus, a graph of my heart rate over time would be pretty interesting to see.

  • GPS - Opt-in way to show my location on a map throughout the day. When this come out, I'm permanently attaching a pair of them to my kids (assuming that Nike adds inductive charging, that is!)

  • Remotes - For my ankle or shoe (while biking), or directly on the bike itself for real-time telemetry data. (Heck, I'd buy a pair of pet collars to see what they're up to as well.)

  • API - FuelBand should be able to display anything we want. Developers could make it display tweets, Facebook posts, email, SMS, whatever. It already has a clock mode so it's already capable of replacing your watch, an API would open it up to the creative minds of the community. Fuel apps anyone?

What's your take on the wearable computer trend and its roll in personal fitness? Killer new category or passing fad?

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