Stepping Out With the Fitbit Blaze Smartwatch
Louis Gray

Telling us we didn’t get much sleep? Useless. Giving us actionable, personalized suggestions to improve our sleep? Priceless.

Fitness wearables: Enough raw numbers; give us specific, personalized, and actionable advice

You track our workouts and sleep; why not share correlations to help us make smart changes?

originally written for my blog at, updated and shared here in honor of Louis Gray’s post :).

I’ve been following fitness trackers and wearables with keen interest for years. Various Fitbits, the Withings Pulse, and the Basis B1 and Peak watches… they’ve all been intriguing, but so very, very disappointing.

All current fitness wearables miserably fail to help us identify correlations that could efficiently and dramatically improve our lives.

Sure, a bit of quantification plus fun gamification encourages many to walk more steps or perhaps get more sleep. But wouldn’t it be helpful to know how doing action [x] strongly correlates with improvements in [y]?

For instance, current wearables usually measure things such as your activity level during the day and the quality of your sleep, and so they should be able to offer actionable insights like…

“Hey Adam, on the days when you workout 30+ minutes in the morning, your get an average of 42% more deep sleep that night.”

To get more observations like this, people would probably be willing to manually share additional data with wearables. Imagine if we could say “Okay Watch: I just drank a small coffee” or push a button or two to indicate that we just ate finished eating a heavy dinner. From this, our wearable could add caffeine or food consumption info to your personal database, enabling it to offer recommendations like, “It takes you an extra 30 minutes to fall asleep at night when you consume caffeine after 1pm.”

Not only could our wearables suggest useful correlations, they could provide inspiration through the highlighting of trends.

On my Withings dashboard I see a jumbled plotting of heart rate measurements that suggest, well, pretty much nothing. But my wearable could crunch the numbers and offer me encouraging info like this…

Since you began actively exercising again about 7 weeks ago, your heart rate recovery has improved dramatically… from a recovery rate of 78 minutes down to 42 minutes. Recovery rate is a strong indicator of heart health [learn more], so keep up the intense aerobic exercising!

Additionally, based on aggregate user data, wearables could provide useful encouragement based on others’ experiences.

For instance, “Other [wearable] users who added two additional intense 30-minute aerobic sessions per week saw an average of 27% sounder sleep within 3 months.” Of course, the userbase would have to be sufficiently large, and obviously privacy would have to be baked into the core of such a program.

Wearables need to evolve from mindless and repetitive cheerleaders and observers to smart coaches.

Because right now, alas, too many of us are suffering from “move it!” and “congratulations…” fatigue. For instance, my old Basis Peak annoyingly spammed me with a plethora of ‘achievements’ notices on my phone day after day. Sure, I could have taken a few minutes to alter the notifications, rejigger the “challenges,” and so on, but why should I have to? If I’ve achieved the “Wear it” goal every day for the last 42 days, why on earth would I want to see this alert for a 43rd time? Okay, Pulse, so I hit 10,000 steps today? I know that. I was walking on a treadmill for a couple hours!

Tell me something I don’t know, please!

Heck, if you’re going to send alerts to my phone, why not prompt me for useful info? For instance, obviously with opt-in, “Hi Adam, how do you feel? [Energetic] [Slightly fatigued] [Dog tired]” and then, after a month, note something like “On those days you took a 15 minute nap around 2pm, you were 70% less likely to report fatigue later on those days.” Or help me determine what my optimal sleep amount is (“Looks like 7 hours of sleep a night is your ‘sweet spot.’ Your reported fatigue increases steeply when you sleep less than that, but remains pretty unchanged when you sleep *more* than 7 hours.“)

Sure, I could keep a ‘personal log’ spreadsheet (and — I’m such a geek — I actually do!), but computers are much better at finding correlations than we humans are, especially when they have scientists adding in sanity checks to possible ‘correlations’ :).

So in summary, our wearables should…

  • surface useful correlations
  • provide actionable advice,
  • highlight encouraging trends
  • all while leveraging the experience of crowds and the wisdom of scientists.

With the amazing improvements in what we can measure in a compact device and the outstanding increases in phone processing power and user interfaces, I’m confident all of this is absolutely achievable.

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