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.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on February 24, 2012. @piers_fawkes

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. – 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