Product Review: Using Jawbone UP for Building Healthy Habits

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I bought the Jawbone UP 3 weeks ago aiming to form new habits to live a healthier lifestyle. 3 weeks on, I have formed some new habits but question the ability of the UP system to sustain them. This review will be done through the lens of habit formation, by borrowing references from the “Habit Loop” (Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit”). I will also be commenting on the UP product in its whole form (band, app and user experience) and review it as ONE system. I will be using “product” and “system” interchangeably. This review is valid for the UP app version 2.7 (released July 30, 2013).

TL:DR – The UP 2.0 is a good inspirer but insufficient maintainer of habits. Its vision of “holistic lifestyle tracking” holds much potential but its execution on feature inter-connectedness has room for improvement. My Review for UP — 3.5 stars

UP’s post-novelty challenge

I found my past 3 weeks of UP usage mirroring the 1st 2 stages of Paul Graham’s famous Startup Curve: “TechCrunch of initiation” and “Wearing off of novelty”. I think I can identify 3 distinct phases during these 3 weeks. 1st Phase (1 week) – UI –> the beautiful data visualizations of Sleep and Step tracking. This was love at first sight (albeit more of a lingering summer crush till today). 2nd Phase (1 week) – Social (real friends) & Food Logging –> I began my descent on the slide of novelty-decline here. I began to add enough personal friends and banter kept it going. I was motivated by my Step data to begin logging my food in order to track my calorie intake and nutrition. 3rd Phase (1 week) – Social (strangers) & Coaching Need? –> I found my personal circle limited in size and goal alignment. Thinking deeper, I realized my real need wasn’t social support but I needed crowdsourced ideas on how to improve which was lacking from the UP product itself. I went to the “Live UP” forum to find strangers to solve this need since I found UP’s “Insights” feature sorely inadequate. With every phase, I retroactively realized I was putting more and more user effort into the product. I interpret this to be a sign of feature-need imbalance and that my user lifecycle may be coming to an end. What this means — UP has a window of <1 month to make their band-app system a habit by itself to the user.

UP’s position in the “Habit Loop”

In Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit”, he talks about the Habit Loop (which reminds me of Marc Andreessen’s “Viral Loop”). The “Habit Loop” is closed by a “craving” (or dopamine boosts if you will) as the user seeks the reward repeatedly.

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Through my 3 weeks, I have noticed the creation of several new healthy habits that can be attributed to UP usage.

  1. Sleep Review on mornings – Cue: my UP band’s tactile button. Routine: Tap the button to switch mode to “Awake” from “Sleep” and sync UP band with my iPhone. Reward: UP’s Sleep review of the previous night
  2. Nutrition reviews after meals – Cue: Finishing a meal. Routine: Open my UP app to log the food items I ate. Reward: UP’s Nutrition review page (based on USDA recommendations)
  3. Alighting the train earlier – Cue: Going office (home) on mornings (evenings). Routine: Alighting 1-2 stops earlier than usual to walk the last mile or so. Reward: Syncing my UP to record the steps for my daily 10,000 step goal.

On first look, you may think that UP has succeeded in integrating into my life. That my be true but it ignores the growing sense of unfulfillment that I experience at the “reward” stage. The reason is the lack of actionability of UP’s “rewards” at the end of the loop (except for Habit #3). Without actionability, the “reward” is incomplete and definitely does not create a “craving” to complete the habit loop. I am clueless on how to improve the quality of my sleep for Habit #1 and unaware of how to lower my intake of sugar and cholesterol for my next meal in Habit #2.

An “un-holistic” UP: Broken Bridges between 4 Pillars of Health

UP’s website states that it “is a system that takes a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle”. UP tracks the “4 pillars of health” (see Larry Smarr of UCSD/ TED MED), which are sleep, steps (exercise), food and mood. I assume the tracking all 4 pillars is what UP means by their holistic approach. What frustrates me is that UP’s approach to “holistic” tracking is to treat each of these 4 pillars as distinct entities without meaningful linkage or inter-pillar context. I am unable to know how my food intake affects my sleep or how my steps affect my daily diet. Through my 3 weeks, these questions started as nagging thoughts but have evolved into roaring Egyptian protests today. To be fair, UP’s Lifeline and Trends feature indicate a token step in the holistic path but are unactionable without much user effort. My example relates to the Step-Food pillars. I have “calories burned” from Step Tracking but need to refer to my “calories intake” from Food Tracking”. However, it takes at least 3 taps to calculate my calorie intake-burn balance which frustrates me in my daily dietary planning, which is ironically a habit cultivated by UP in the first place! In addition, I have always wondered how Mood Tracking correlates to the other 3 areas. After 3 weeks of usage, I have yet to see how Mood data can be relevant to my lifestyle tracking. This is yet another reminder of the large amount of guesswork and user effort that is involved with the UP product.

What will UP be when it grows up?

It is unfair to expect UP to be a $129 quick-fix to every one’s lifestyle problems. However, I believe UP’s short-term value, while it figures out its data-analysis BHAG, can be a consistent data-oriented “lifestyle coach”. It can do that by helping users to form cross-pillar habits and use data to reinforce that habit loop so that users get into flow-state. The team can target the metric of lengthening the user lifecycle of current UP users, which appears to taper off around the 3 to 6 month mark due to an aforementioned problem of a weak “reward” link (or the rare mechanical issue based on forums). One idea to do this is to focus on the time-specificity of UP interactions. UP can focus on the morning interaction of users. Most UP users sync their devices after they wake up so UP technically “owns” a user’s first interaction with any product and hence are uniquely positioned to define their day and habits. Jawbone can focus on actionability as a key metric of the post-sync experience, such as suggesting breakfast or exercise activities that the user can immediately execute on and get them into the groove of a morning habit influenced by UP. The goal can be to create activity suggestions that will form an “activity-chain” that helps to keep UP top-of-mind for the rest of the user’s day activities. Likewise, Jawbone can focus on end-of-day/ evening interactions and focus on the “review” phase and user experience when users are syncing their day’s worth of data. An efficient data review that personalizes the user’s lifestyle with connections across the 4 health pillars can sharpen the value of UP in the user’s life and contribute significantly to lasting retention and data collection that is essential for the data-oriented and holistic vision of Jawbone.


This review was originally posted on Quora. UP by Jawbone is Bjorn’s first QS device (but surely not the last!).

** Photo credit (the 1st photo in this article “Raw is Sexy” is a Facebook community for health & wellness.)

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