Piers Fawkes: Nike Thinks I’m The Athlete I’m Not

The tracking accuracy on new Nike Fuel band is suspect and the brand’s view of health is naive.

I was lucky enough to be presented with a free Nike Fuel earlier this week. The sporting apparel company had set up a huge exhibition in a warehouse on a pier in Manhattan that edged into the East River. A row of Nike employees helped me and, I guess, other ‘influencers’ set up their Fuel wristbands and set ourselves personal goals.

I got a medium band. It fit snuggly around my right wrist. It’s a kind of pedometer that uses an accelerometer to calculate steps taken, calories burned and ‘Nike Fuel’ points. It has a one button interface that allows the user to scroll through a glowing display. It also has a USB that allows the band to both charge and upload data to somewhere in the cloud.

Some readers may know that I’m curious about self-tracking and its impact on health. Last week, I wrote about my experience with The Eatery app which I used to photo-journal my diet during a week-long trip to London. So, I was interested in seeing how Nike Fuel could impact my health as well.

After a day wearing the device, however, I began to distrust the tracking accuracy and felt that the device lacked the complexity that we are beginning to expect when it comes to mobile technology and our health. I just expected more from a large corporation with deep pockets for investment.

With a goal of hitting a rigorous 3,000 Nike Fuel points, here’s how my day unfolded on Thursday:

6am – Morning starts with daily research. Nike Fuel points – 85

7am – Lego distraction with daughter Georgie. Nike Fuel points – 227. RSS has been hard work!

8am – Cy tries on the Nike Fuel band at breakfast. Crikey, he should have his clothes on by now. Nike Fuel points – 405. Must have been the oatmeal stirring.

9am – One’s off to school, the other is crying in the background of this conference call to Italy. Nike Fuel points – 660. Wonder how much energy I will burn speaking English loud and slowly for the next 45 minutes?

10am – Got to get to the office. Let’s see how many steps it takes to make the 25 minute walk. Steps already taken this morning: 1695. What? I’ve already paced around the apartment over fifteen hundred times? Maybe it was chasing all those little monkeys.

10.28am – Made it to the office just in time. Steps – 3936. That means I walked 2,241 steps for a 1.2 mile journey. I looked this stat up and it seemed like an average

10.30am – Conference call to London. Nike Fuel points: 1147. Speak less loudly.

12.pm – Early lunch with Stanley Lumax. Energy level – 1504. Already? That conference call must have been more frantic than I thought.

…And then I stopped checking until I got home…..

6.15pm – Home after subway ride. Kids bath. Energy level – 2611.

6.45pm – Story time. Kids get your pyjamas on already will you? Energy level – 2713. (Band removed during kids bath)

8pm – Unable to sync Nike Fuel with my iPhone via Bluetooth for the 20th time. Gave up.

10pm – Sneaked out to the bar. The ultimate test was about to begin. Nike Fuel points pre-pint: 3472

10.10pm – Proof about the positive effect of elbow-raising on personal fitness: Nike Fuel points post-pint: 3616

11.30pm – Home and time to sleep. Energy level – 4105. Smashed my goal on the first day….

So how did I do? Well, when I set it up with the Nike staffer I seem to remember that I was given a goal of 3,000 – which was supposed to be a pretty rigorous and energetic day. Sure, I took a 20 minute walk to work, but it was odd that a day of conference calls and distractions by kids (and three pints of IPA) put me well above my goal.

I was left feeling suspect about the quality of the tracking. The number of steps seemed appropriate when I walked but why did a pint of beer earn me 140 points? I also noticed that when I was in a taxi or on a subway ride the points went up too. I don’t think the technology is sophisticated enough to tell the difference between walking and driving on a bumpy New York City road, or between running and writing down notes on a pad.

There were also connectivity problems:  I was unable to sync the band to my phone via Bluetooth – and nothing seemed to fire up when I hooked the USB port to my computer. Really – do I have to go read the instructions?

And maybe the biggest take-away was that I found Nike’s view about health too simplistic. Nike Fuel is about movement but I know my health is connected with my diet and other variables like emotional well-being. I’ve checked out the specs online and there doesn’t seem to be any diet tracking. There seems to be a way to diarize an entry about a certain day somewhere in the cloud but what about collecting values of wellbeing on a chart?

There are so many sophisticated health tracking mobile tools available today and so the Nike Fuel seemed basic and naive. The Nike Fuel experience feels like what you got with a Fitbit device over 2 years ago. As it evolves, I think that the Nike Fuel mobile app will need to allow users to both photo-journal and statistically track ALL the other elements of health – otherwise it just becomes another pedometer.

With my diet tracking, I tried it for a week. I wore the band for a day. And now it’s off the wrist. Maybe the kids will find some joy in using it as a play thing….

 Nike Fuel

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