Jawbone's New Fitness Trackers: A High-End Design and a Cheap Gateway

Courtesy Jawbone
Wearable tech startup Jawbone will release two new products this fall. There will be a new version of the Up health-monitoring wristband, and the company will introduce an entry-level device that can be strapped to the wrist or attached to clothing.

Announced on Wednesday, the Up3 is a big improvement over Jawbone’s earlier wristbands. It has new sensors to measure heart rate and respiration, as well as body and room temperature. The sensor technology comes from BodyMedia, a health-monitoring startup Jawbone bought last year. BodyMedia’s own products have been certified as clinical devices by the Food and Drug Administration. While Jawbone isn’t seeking similar status for its wristband, the added tech moves it far beyond the capabilities of earlier versions of the product, and of competing brands offering cheap step-counting bands.

Courtesy Jawbone
But Jawbone’s main competitor, Fitbit, hasn’t been sitting pat. Last month it introduced its own wristband that monitors heart rate, called the Charge HR, and it will hit markets next year. Both companies are trying to offer the capabilities of more advanced wearable devices targeting serious athletes, while sacrificing the most sophisticated aspects of data collection to maintain the lengthy battery life needed in a device designed to be worn 24 hours a day.

Even though the Charge HR lacks the temperature and respiration sensors of Jawbone’s new band, it claims only five days of battery life compared with the Up3’s seven days. The difference in battery life likely stems from the technique the bands use to measure heart rate. Fitbit uses an optical heart-rate monitor to track the movement of blood through the wrist. Jawbone’s technique, called bioimpedance, sends signals between two sensors on either side of the wrist.

Fitbit claims its product will provide continuous data on heart rate, although CNET tested various optical heart-rate monitors earlier this year and found they didn’t work well when people were actively exercising. Jawbone says the Up3 will only measure resting heart rate at first, and while it says it plans to add continuous monitoring through a software update, it couldn’t give an exact timeline.

Courtesy Jawbone

Jawbone’s main advantage could be aesthetic. Yves Béhar, the megastar designer, serves as its creative director. For the Up3, he and his team tested hundreds of potential layouts of internal components and sensors before arriving at the arrangement and proportions that would ergonomically fit most people. Finding that sweet spot involved reducing the thickness and width of the original Up band, which was already one of the slimmest trackers on the market but had only one sensor. The slimmer, more streamlined profile makes it considerably more discreet, especially on smaller wrists.

In creating a thin device, Béhar has sidestepped one of the oft-cited barriers to adopting wearables: aesthetics. The Jawbone Up3 can be worn alongside a watch or bracelets without calling attention to itself. It also has a distinct personality without masquerading as something it isn’t—a thick sporty watch (for men) or a piece of flashy jewelry (for women).

Jawbone plans to roll out over the next few months bands in various colors, finishes, and textures, including a pattern resembling that of a quilted Chanel handbag. “A lot of other brands base their design language on one or two materials and colors,” Béhar says. “We’re basing ours on variety and tactility.”

Courtesy Jawbone

Jawbone’s other new product, Up Move, closely resembles Fitbit’s Zip, which is already on the market. Move records steps and calories burned as well as detailed information about sleep, which the Zip does not. The brightly colored, podlike device fits into a different-colored wristband or clip that can be hooked onto a belt loop, bra, or other article of clothing. The user interface is nearly as subtle as the Up3′s, with tiny icons and flashing lights, rather than a battery-sucking display. The radial face reveals how close you are to reaching your goal almost like a pie graph. It takes a standard replaceable watch battery that lasts up to six months.

The other main feature of the Move is its $50 price tag, $10 less than Fitbit’s competing product. Jawbone would like to sell more to large employers willing to buy products in bulk if they keep their employees healthier and more productive. “Having something at that price point is very important for those markets,” says Andrew Rosenthal, Jawbone’s group manager for platform and wellness.

The Move will be available on Nov. 5 in a range of colors. The Up3 will come out later this year for $180.

Courtesy Jawbone

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