First, let me present a little bit of a preamble: I am now in the process of creating our own in-house Wearable Tech World Labs, a place where we will gather up all of the important wearable tech gadgets and related technologies now in the marketplace. As part of our labs effort we will also begin to provide reviews of the products themselves. The first of what we anticipate will be a large collection of what I am calling "hands-off" reviews will be my review here of Misfit Wearables' Shine activity tracker. Let's get started!
Look, let's be honest…I primarily write for a living and during the week I spend most of my day at my desk. And even though I am a highly mobile sort of guy and my "desk" can be located in any number of places during the week - and sometimes during the day - the truth is that being mobile doesn't really generate a lot of metabolism-raising or fat-burning activity. Though I've always known this, I now have physical, wearable tech proof.
On the bright side, I also now have physical proof that at the very least, my weekends don't look quite as dire from an activity standpoint as my weekdays do. This is good to know.
Almost a month ago we held our inaugural Wearable Tech Expo and Conference in NYC. If you missed it you missed a great deal of cool wearable tech! Our next conference and expo is taking place in Los Angeles on December 10 and 11, 2013 - if you are on the West Coast get yourself over there - you will truly find it to be insightful from both a conference and "hands-on" wearable tech standpoint. As the event's conference chair and therefore the person responsible for creating and assembling our two day wearable tech conference programs for our events, I have a very interesting and in-depth view of the wearable tech industry.
That means I get to meet up with most of the people driving the wearable tech industry forward. One of these folks is Sonny Vu, the CEO of Misfit Wearables and the guy primarily responsible for the vision behind the company's first wearable tech product - Shine. Sonny participated on a panel session at our NYC event and he also took part in our event Demo Forum - where 18 companies took on the challenge of showing off their wearable tech devices and underlying technologies. Below is Sonny's Demo Forum segment.
Our Demo Forum panel of judges (which consisted of myself, 3 VCs and an industry tech design expert) awarded the Shine Best Product in Show for reasons that include market viability, ease of use, wearability, design vision and application, and application simplicity in how it delivers to the user the meaningful data it provides. The video above does a good job of demonstrating how Shine works - the question for me is to provide a sense of how well Shine actually manages to pull things off.
If one were to ask the attendees at the conference what the overall theme of the NYC event ended up being they would no doubt say that "making wearable tech actually wearable" is the key issue that emerged. That same idea is one of Sonny's personal mantras, and I must say that the Misfit Wearables team has done a great job of delivering on it with Shine.
Unlike the Nike Fuelband, the Fitbit or Jawbone's Up - which are some of the more prominent activity trackers currently available, Shine does not engage the user immediately with a "bracelet" design that needs to be worn on a wrist. In part these devices sort of scream out a "Hey, look at me, I have one of these things on my wrist and I'm hip" approach. They are certainly wearable, but the "act" of wearing them seems to me to more often than not become the primary point of focus, rather than the set of activities they each track.
As Sonny notes in the video, the Shine - which was in part funded through Indiegogo and which officially launched on August 6, 2013 - is about the size of a quarter and weighs no more than two quarters. It is extremely lightweight. When you wear it you simply forget you are wearing it though it is a beautifully designed little piece of contemporary technology "and fashion" - both in how it looks and how it is constructed. I would go so far as to say its precision construction is "Apple-esque" and that is a very good thing indeed. It will be a good fit in Apple's stores, where it is now available for purchase.
My favorite piece of the Shine design is how it clips on to where you would like to clip it. The "clip" (or clasp) consists of a sturdy little piece of rubber, one end of which is a circular band that holds the Shine. The other end contains a strong magnet that allows you to fold the rubber over and it then magnetically attaches itself to the back end of the Shine itself. It is super-easy to clip to your shirt, to a collar, to any of your pockets, to your footwear (not exactly where I would put it but it's possible) and a number of other possible places - including buttonholes. It does so easily and it weighs so little you never feel it is clipped on.
It is indeed truly wearable and it simply looks very cool in a very modern sort of design fashion way. Of course this is a highly subjectable issue, and you may very well find it unappealing. In this case I'd have to seriously question your design sense!
I have been wearing it on shirt pockets and shirt collars though next week, while attending our week long TMC ITEXPO Las Vegas event it will transition to suit jacket pockets. I will be very interested to see how many folks take note of it.
The Shine is available for $119.95, which includes both the rubber clasp I've noted as well as a sports band. Misfit does, of course also provide "accessories" for wearing the Shine. Below are the company's current options. The second from the left is the included sports band (it's also a $19.95 option) that enables people to wear it on the wrist like competitors' devices. The leather watch strap with deployment clasp is pricy at $79.95 but as it happens the Shine also tells the time so…I will need to ask the Misfit folks for a review watch strap!
Before going into the use of Shine, it is interesting to note that the Shine tells time in much the same way mechanical minute repeater watches (which are all stratospherically priced) do it. A minute repeater (considered by most of us to be the most difficult mechanical watch complication to pull off) tells the time by signaling the hour, quarter hour and minutes through a series of gongs (sounds). The Shine nicely albeit quietly simulates this through flashing LEDs.
It is also worth noting that the Shine runs off a very standard, non-rechargeable flat battery, the sort that is used In myriad electronic devices. Misfit claims it will give you at least six months of non-stop service before needing to be replaced. Eliminating the battery charging hardware keeps the size and weight down, which is hugely important to the Shine design concept.
So, Does it Work?
The answer is emphatically yes, it does, and in a very satisfying way, even if the message isn't necessarily one that - as I noted at the top of my story - provides you with the sort of news you hope to hear or if it confirms what you sadly already know about your lack of activity. What is particularly useful to me is that I am definitely looking to interact with Shine.
One of the key design goals all wearable activity monitors are challenged with is to create an interface that makes it compelling to interact with the device. Simply looking at a set of numbers doesn't always cut it in terms of creating that compelling experience. The Shine interface doesn't spend any time being concerned with numbers. The user utilizes the Shine mobile app to set an initial goal, along with height, weight and age, and the Shine device then gives you a "relative" and easy to grasp sense of how well you are moving towards your goal throughout the day. The goal is defined by determining a set of points you would like to hit - say 1,000 points for the day.
As shown in the Demo Forum video above, there are twelve LEDs on the Shne that a user can see when the Shine is double tapped. If you get to that magical moment where all twelve of them light up - congrats! You have reached your goal (and milestone) for a given day. If say six LEDs light up you've reached 50 percent of your goal. The point is that the exact numbers aren't as important as knowing where you are relative to your overall goal when you interact with the device itself. That is the beauty of the Shine interface.
And damn it - as skeptical as I had been that I would in fact interact with my Shine, I find myself compelled to do so every few hours. As I've noted, during the week this is more frustrating than anything else - watching Shine report back with all of two or three LEDs lighting at most makes my activity reality quite clear to me. And yes, as much as I intuitively know this to be the case, seeing those two or three LEDs really makes an impression! And sets a challenge.
I find myself thinking about ways to push Shine to light up many more LEDs! In particular, while Shine is recording my absolute lack of activity during my typical 45 to 60 minute traffic jam riddled morning and evening rides to and from the office I am scheming to improve on my LED counts. But here is the thing - most of the time Shine simply looks good on my shirt - as really outstanding wearable tech should - but calls absolutely no attention to itself. But I await its report every few hours when I give it that quick double tap.
The weekends are a different story. I set my goal much higher for the weekends and though I've not yet scored those 12 LEDs lighting up I've hit 11. The compelling thing is my powerful desire to have all twelve light up. I'm not actually sure if I should expect a magical light show if I do, but secretly I do!
There are Numbers
So then, underneath the LEDs of the Shine itself lurk the numbers that add up toward your goals. Getting to those numbers requires an app for your iPhone. Shine currently supports iOS 6.x and we expect it will support iOS 7 when it launches. Android users are unfortunately out of the loop until very early in 2014.
My favorite app-based activity tracker for my iPhone is a great app called MotionX-GPS. It provides just about every conceivable bit of information about my travels. It is not complex and hard to use but it has lots of bells and whistles for tracking runs, average speed and myriad other stats and map-based info. Compared to Motion-X the Shine app is really a definition of simplicity.
Shine compiles and maintains your numbers ongoing. You don't need to sync it every day with your iPhone app; it will keep track of how multiple days have gone. That said, it is a very simple thing to sync the Shine and app. Shine makes use of very low power Bluetooth. When you are ready to sync Shine with the app you tap "sync" on the app and it draws a circle on the screen and asks you to place your Shine on it - it doesn't really need to be on it but it is important to be very close to the iPhone. The low-power Bluetooth conserves a good deal of battery life and it is worth it relative to having to bring the two devices together.
Typically inside of 10 to 15 seconds, the iPhone starts radiating out circles to confirm the devices are paired, and the Shine itself puts on a bit of a light show to indicate data transfer is compete. That's it - put the Shine back on your shirt and forget about it. Meanwhile, the Shine app will tell you in numbers and percentages what you've achieved on a daily and weekly basis, and provides both daily and weekly activity graphs. Details aren't at all necessary - again, you have a very powerful sense of how you did relative to your goals and to your activity across days and weeks and that is all you really need to know. The image below (click on it for a larger and easier to view version) shows some of the relevant app views.
There is plenty of data there to satisfy those who have to have the numbers. And the Shine app will also let you know what you can do to hit your numbers from whatever place in your goals you happen to be sitting. For me, knowing where I am relative to where I need to be is the challenge I am looking to win. Am I going to suddenly take up swimming early in the morning (the Shine is waterproof) or take up rounds of cycling around the neighborhood in the evenings after my commutes? Sadly, I doubt it, but I have been thinking about it and it isn't anything I would rule out - it might happen.
There is a beta component to the Shine app that allow you to specifically track certain activities - Sleep, Swimming, Cycling, Tennis, Basketball and Football. You make your selection and then triple tap on the Shine to set the Shine for tracking. I've managed to track my sleep - this certainly isn't anything that moves the activity needle but I have learned that I don't do a lot of what the Shine considers to be "deep sleep." I take it I move around quite a bit in my sleep.
I have a colleague at the office who avoids the morning rush hour by heading out long before it kicks in and getting himself to the gym. No doubt he'd have to set his Shine goals much higher than I do on the weekdays. I used to do that once, a long time ago, when I was young…dream on, I know. Still, I feel myself gearing up to at least do some fast walking during the week because, well, I want those 12 LEDs to show up during the week.
Finally, I find it quite interesting that for a device that ultimately remains entirely passive, I've been quite engaged with it. I do indeed feel the challenge it presents to me - which I never would have believed I would buy into. I have, and I suspect Sonny would consider this a victory for Shine.
Congrats Misfit Wearables on a great wearable tech product!
Edited by Rachel Ramsey