Category Archives: technology

Farewell Fitbit: Falling victim to the Force rash

me with bandages

I’d been told to expect to be injured at least once while training for my first marathon. What I didn’t expect is for that injury to be to my wrists.

I first heard reports that some Fitbit Force users had developed a rash some weeks ago. Not long after, I noticed a little redness under my own, but I put it down to being a bit hot and sweaty, and switched it over to my other hand.

Over the weekend I went to Abu Dhabi. The sunshine – which has been in short supply at home lately – made the rash far worse and my travelling partner (my mum) said “you’ve got a terrible burn on your wrists. How did you do that?”.

fitbit rash

The rash from my Fitbit

Looking at the bright red marks, I had to admit it was actually hurting me. I really love my Fitbit Force – I’ve blogged about it on here twice to say how much I like it – but reluctantly, it’s time to stop using it.

Days after taking my Force off, the rash still seemed to be getting worse, so I called my GP, who advised me to go to the Minor Injuries clinic and get it looked at.

So that’s how I ended up at St Bart’s Hospital with what might be their first case of a quantified self injury.

They diagnosed contact dermatitis, but couldn’t rule out some kind of chemical burn. Fitbit themselves have said a tiny proportion of users are experiencing an allergic reaction to the nickel in the surgical-grade steel in the device. I find this hard to believe as I’ve been wearing a lower-grade steel navel ring (i.e. with nickel) for 14 years without any problems.

Over on the Fitbit Community (registration needed to view), users are discussing the possibility that it’s a reaction to the adhesive, the battery, or something else, causing a burn-like reaction that’s not consistent with a simple metal allergy.

Last week, after a steady drip-drip of stories of users developing rashes in the media, Fitbit finally admitted there is a major problem with the Force and issued a product recall. I’ve filed a case with them, but as it was never sold outside the US and Canada they haven’t worked out how to manage returns for Force owners in other countries. I’m still waiting to hear back from them.

The numbers of users reporting a reaction seems to be growing steadily. One former user has created a spreadsheet of affected people and their onset period. With over 700 cases tracked so far – and most of those affected only seeing symptoms after weeks or months wearing the device – this looks set to be a growing embarrassment for FitBit.

As for me, I’ll be running without data until I can find a new tracker.

Location broadcasting beta

london map

I’m lucky that many of my friends and family want to come and cheer me on, but how can I make life easier for them by letting them know where I am and when I’m due at their vantage point?

Given the wealth of running apps that log your location, it seems bizarre that these don’t easily broadcast location when required. As well as helping supporters track progress on race day, this kind of functionality could be really useful for those days where a long slow run turns out to be even longer and slower than anticipated, leaving a worried partner at home wondering if you’ve collapsed.

I’ve been pondering this one for a while, and came up with a few options:

  • Google: Latitude has been retired, but this feature has been wrapped into Google+, allowing real-time location sharing, with different granularity by sharing. However, the location is only available to those viewing via the Google+ app.
  • Runkeeper: This has long been by running app of choice, and its Elite (paid-for) layer enables Runkeeper Live, which broadcasts location and allows sharing via web, Twitter and Facebook
  • Glympse: This is an app which allows the user to broadcast location for a specific period of time, choosing to share with individuals, groups, or via social.

I’ve decided to road-test Glympse when I do the Reading Half this weekend, as this allows me to embed my live location map on my site.

My live location beta is here.

I’m looking for one or more people to beta test this for me on Sunday (2 March). I’ll be broadcasting my location between 10.30 and 12.30. If you’re awake at this time, I’d be grateful if you’d take a note of where I am at a specific point in time (or take a screengrab), which I can compare after the event.

Please share your beta test maps or notes in the comments below. If you’ve got any ideas for how I can make this work as well as possible, let me know.

Join the Distance Disco

Apple headphones

This weekend I’m running the Reading Half Marathon for the third time. This is the final time I’ll be running in race conditions before the big one, so it’s the perfect opportunity to test out how I want to take the race on marathon day – and I need your help.

For other people, a training race is a chance to test an approach to pacing, clothing or hydration and nutrition strategy. But for me this is a test run for my Battery Strategy and my running music.

I’ve been training without my Pebble as the Bluetooth connection drains the iPhone’s already lightweight battery, but I really want to use it on race day. Last year, I challenged my friends to cheer me on on race day via tweets sent to my Pebble, and to choose my running music for me via a collaborative Spotify. It was a miserable, wet and cold day, but the stream of good wishes and ace tunes kept my spirits up and saw me round the 13.1 grim miles, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for the full 26.2.

So I’ve ordered a Moophie Juice Pack and am using this weekend’s race to see if it’ll keep my phone in enough power to feed me tunes and tweets all morning.

And just like last year, I’m asking for your kind words and excellent taste in tunes.

In last year’s race, every time I was feeling tired or demotivated, a cracking tune would come on and cheer me up. This year, I need it even more. If I’m going to get around twenty six long, long miles, I’l going to need a party in my ears.

I’ve set up a collaborative playlist here, and I’d love it if you would add any tunes you think might keep my motivated on the big day. Together, we can create the perfect distance running disco.

The rules:

  1. I won’t look at the playlist before I start – I want it to be a surprise
  2. You have until 8am on Sunday, 2 March to add your tunes – that’s when I’ll switch the playlist to offline
  3. I can skip if I’ve heard a tune before (the Rickroll Rule)
  4. If there’s a tune that doesn’t help me pick up/keep up the pace, or which I really hate (or both), I can skip past that too (the Hawkwind Rule)

I’ll be reading my tweets on my Pebble, so tweet me your words of encouragement @sharonodea. The race starts at 10am on Sunday 2 March, and all being well I’ll be over the finish line by 12.30.

EDIT: Someone on Twitter came up with the idea of offering a prize. Great idea! I’ll be handing out the finest gift my husband can find in Reading on Sunday morning to whoever adds the track which is on when I cross the finish line. So add those tunes now and be in with the chance to win.

Fitbit: the Force is strong, two months on

The Fitbit Force

Two months after I started using the Fitbit Force, it’s time to reflect on how it’s working for me.

Overall, I like it a lot. It quickly made me become more active day to day, and that’s become a sustainable habit already. It could so easily have been a different story, mind you.

A near-miss

One of the major downsides of the Force is how easy it is to lose. For quite a long time after purchase (until the band softened a little) it was quite hard to do up, and consequently it’s easy to wear it without realising it’s not on properly. Similarly, it’s quite easy to undo. It fell off at least once a day in the first week I had it.

A week after I started wearing it, I went on holiday. It fell off a couple of times while I was taking bags on and off my shoulders during the journey. Once we reached Buenos Aires, we navigated the usual airport confusion of how to find a cab that won’t rip us off. Less than five minutes into the cab journey, I noticed the Fitbit was gone. My wrist still felt newly exposed. I realised I must have lost it as I put my bag in the boot.

Yep, I’d had it a week before losing it. I pictured someone finding my ‘watch’ by the cab rank, not being able to charge it, and putting it in the bin. I was gutted.

My long-suffering and wonderful husband immediately tried to console me, even offering me his Jawbone Up as a substitute. I was just bloody annoyed, both at the wasted money and the idea of slipping down the Fitbit league table.

I looked at my phone, opening the Fitbit app to see what I was missing, largely to irritate myself further and wallow in some self pity.

Improvised clasp on Fitbit

The improvised clasp is not a good look

Finding your Force, said the app.

Good luck with that, I told myself.

Then the screen flashed Syncing…

What? That meant my Fitbit was in Bluetooth range. It was in the car!

Half an hour later, we reached our hotel I the city centre. The driver got our cases and backpacks out of the car. And there, wedged in the seam of the boot, was my Fitbit. My husband breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be spending the next fortnight moaning about my lost wearable.

Once we’d checked in, D made me a ‘safety catch’ for the Fitbit using some elastic from his sock (pictured right). It did the trick, but I suspect this isn’t the brand image Fitbit are after. Looking at reviews on Amazon, the poor clasp design has been a problem for others. The Force could really do with a loop to keep the strap done up if it pops open. I’m hoping an enterprising person will soon offer this on Kickstarter.

Since then I’ve managed not to lose it again (although it did get wet and have to be replaced).

Nudging me to a more active lifestyle

Having quickly shot to the top of the friends’ Fitbit league table while on holiday, I’ve been determined to stay there ever since.  So I’ve been adding additional walks into my day where I can – walking instead of taking the tube to Waterloo, taking the stairs instead of the lift, finding branches of Pret that are further away from the office and using those instead.

On days when I’ve been uncharacteristically sedentary, I go out for an ‘emergency run’ when I get home. So it’s fair to say gamification works for me and is helping to nudge me into a more active lifestyle.

We even have an Intranet Steppers Fitbit group, where a few of us enterprise web geeks compete to be the most active.

In good company

It turns out we’re in good company. When business leaders met at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, one of the key themes was The New Digital Context – the biggest societal and technological forces shaping the world today. Over a third of the audience at the Digital Context session were using a Fitbit or similar. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff named the Fitbit as the piece of technology had had made the biggest impact for him in the previous year.

That’s an impressive result. It even emerged some of the world’s top CEOs have their own Fitbit league. When Michael Dell spotted Benioff had no Fitbit activity for three days, he rang to check he was ok. Like me, Benioff believes wearables can be life-changing technology, and will be big business in 2014 and beyond.

While it’s not immediately useful as a marathon training aid, for me – and for many Davos attendees – wearables are encouraging more active and healthy lifestyles all year round.

A tale of tech fail

Pebble error message with sadface

It was perhaps inevitable that right after starting a blog about tech and running, all my tech would fail on me.

I ran the New Year’s Day 10k with both my Pebble and Fitbit. It was raining quite hard that day, and somehow it got into the Fitbit and messed up the display. It still seems to work ok, but the watery display just ruins my enjoyment of the device. Every time I look at it I feel a bit disappointed.


My water damaged Fitbit Force

My water damaged Fitbit Force

The Fitbit Force, unlike the Flex, doesn’t claim to be waterproof. Where the Flex can be worn showering and swimming, Fitbit advise users remove the band even for washing up. It does, however, promise to be rain and sweat proof – but my experience shows it isn’t.

Credit where due, Fitbit’s customer support have been excellent. I reported the fault through the Fitbit app, and quickly got an email back suggesting I return it to the shop where I bought it. Given the shop is in New York and I am in London, that’s not a goer. And besides, I threw away the receipt. I emailed back to say so, expecting a battle to get a replacement. They responded saying they’ll ship me a new one anyway. Impressed.

Then inexplicably, after ten months of only occasional use, my Pebble died on me too. It worked fine on my run, but when I got home and quit out of the Pebble’s Runkeeper app, it developed a fault which meant it shows nothing but a sad face.

I tried all the usual routes for a hard reset, but none of them work. The only other suggested fix I can find on the Pebble forum is to wait for the battery to run down and run a restore when plugging it back in.

I’m currently cursing the battery life and the fact I’d given it a full charge the night before. This could take some time. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to return it.

It might be a blessing in disguise. This week Pebble unveiled the Pebble Steel at CES. It’s essentially the same watch but with a much more attractive steel casing and band. It’s gorgeous. I couldn’t justify buying one given I already have a Pebble, but if my one has to go to the great factory in the sky, then maybe it’s time to upgrade.

First impressions of the Fitbit Force

Fitbit Force

I have a new gadget: the Fitbit Force.

Force is the newest addition to the Fitbit range of activity trackers, which aim to ‘nudge’ sedentary people to move more. It’s a pedometer, essentially, recording the number of steps walked or run, distance covered, calories burned, etc, with a small push-button display. The Force combines the functionality of the Fitbit One (with its screen display) with the sleeker look of the Fitbit Flex wristband. Read more about the Fitbit Force here.

Like a lot of women I rarely wear anything with pockets, so if I’m going to carry something around with me all the time, it really needs to go on my wrist (at least until the Google Glass becomes less douchebag-gy).

The relative puny functionality of the Flex had put me off buying one, but when I heard the more feature-rich Force had been launched I was keen to get my hands on one. It’s only available in the US at the moment, but it’s due for UK and international release in January 2014.

I love a gadget, and I especially like this kind of gadget as I like to measure and track things, but I’m not very good at remembering to do it. The beauty of the Fitbit and its ilk is you don’t really need to record anything – it does it for you.

For the past nine months I’ve been using the Pebble smartwatch, which can run native apps, but works primarily as an additional screen and controller for a smartphone. I find it a bit too chunky for general use, but it’s a brilliant device for runners – it allows me to skip tracks and keep an eye on my Runkeeper distance and pace via the watch, which means I can keep my phone in my pocket rather than on an arm strap, making for a more comfortable run.

Both the Pebble and the Force also tell the time. So if I want to know the time, I can look at my wrist, rather than getting my phone out. Revolutionary, right? I’m not sure it’ll catch on.

Early impressions

My early impressions of the Fitbit are good; it’s comfortable to wear, reasonably attractive, and the battery life is solid. It’s already making a difference to my activity levels; in my first three full days of usage I’ve found myself going out of my way to walk to places to bump up my ‘steps’ total.

The device works in conjunction with a smartphone app, which has a really clean, intuitive user interface. It also uses gamification techniques, awarding badges for achieving total or daily distance goals, and allows you to compete with friends. This feature brings out my worst competitive instincts; the three friends I run Intranetizen with are Fitbit users, and I’m determined to make my way up the league table.

Here’s my Fitbit profile – if you’re a Fitbit user, do add me. The more competition, the better.

But while the Fitbit seems effective at nudging users to be more active day to day, how useful is it for marathon training? I’m not sure. Number of steps isn’t a particularly useful training metric, and building two-mile walks into my working day is unlikely to prove a useful marathon training tactic.

Nonetheless, I like it. I’m about to head off on holiday, so there will be no running until mid-December. In the meantime, I’ll be using the Fitbit to track my holiday walks in Argentina – to make me feel less guilty about all the steak I’ll be eating.