fitbit feedback

I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for just about a month now, and I’ve been meaning to blog something about it – particularly after Raster spoke up about the lack of a documented API and Fitbit’s recent move towards “premium” features.

First, let’s get the good stuff out of the way: it’s pretty cool, it Just Works, the battery seems to last a pretty long time, it recharges pretty quickly, it’s very unobtrusive, hanging on your belt, and did I mention it’s pretty cool getting stats on stuff like how active you are over the course of the day and how much you’re sleeping versus how much you’re thrashing around not sleeping? (Here’s my public profile page, if you’re curious – there’s more stats than that available to me that I’ve chosen to not share.)

Next, the slightly dodgy stuff: mine was back-ordered for quite a while (over a month, and well past when they originally indicated it was going to ship). It finally shipped after I started tweeting about it semi-daily, including @fitbit, bitching about how I wanted an update to the shipping status. (I’m not saying that’s what got my unit shipped; it’s possible things would have worked out the same without me doing that – but maybe not.) Finally, the color on the unit they shipped me wasn’t the same as what I’d ordered – not a huge deal, but at the time of my order, they were showing a black model with a silver highlight; the one I got has a turquoise highlight instead. Didn’t bother me enough to return it, but your mileage may vary. (Their Wikipedia page indicates that they’ve got a bit of a history of not delivering stuff on time, so I guess my experience was par for the course.)

And finally, the ugly: as Raster does a good job of pointing out, the way they have the system designed, all your data gets shipped back to the mother ship in the cloud – their cloud. You seem to have access to all of it through their flashy (and Flash-y) web interface, but if you want access to the actual numbers, you’re pretty much out of luck unless you’re willing to dig into one of the unofficial libraries that have reverse-engineered that Flash interface to get access to the XML feeds that are providing the raw data. The part about that approach that makes me nervous is that those XML feeds aren’t documented anywhere, and there’s no guarantee they won’t be radically changed or blocked off without any notice. (Disclosure: I’ve been hacking on one of those libraries myself…)

Finally, another bit of ugly that deserves a special mention: Fitbit has recently announced “premium” fee-based subscription services. They’ve been somewhat aggressive about pushing and up-selling these through their web interface – which, again, you’re pretty much required to use, since there’s no other way to get at your data. The lack of a published API is slightly annoying. Purchasing a piece of hardware merely to be turned into a captive audience for a service up-sell is extremely annoying.

So, to summarize, at this point in time, based on the recent (apparent) change in business model and the lack of a way to access the data from the device without the advertising for “premium” services (and the future potential of a mandatory subscription for the web site), I’m reluctant to recommend anybody buy one of these at this point in time.

On the one hand, it is a cool little toy and I think it can help make you more aware of your sleep patterns and overall activity levels, particularly if you’re a desk jockey like yours truly. On the other hand, $100 (the current purchase price) is outside, or at least on the upper end of, the “eh, what the hell” purchase range for most people. So, unless $100 falls firmly into “petty cash” territory for you, or you don’t care about raw data access or the possibility of future required subscription changes, hold off on the Fitbit for the moment.