Future Quantification of Self

quantified self

I’m an early adopter geek. I back Kickstarter projects, I buy the first wave of gadgets that hit the market, I sign up to new services when they are announced. Unfortunately this can turn out to be a problem.

I’m all for simplicity, it’s why using iTunes to store my music files actually works for me (as a system, iTunes deficiencies aside) because I just search for my what I what to listen to, it’s the same reason why Spotify appeals so much, why Evernote is my central digital information hub, and why Picasa is my chosen photo library.

It’s also why I use Apple products as much as I can, the ecosystem has limitations but they save me more hassle than they cause because they are designed to work together, and when they do it’s simple and easy.

My early adoption of products pulls me away from my desires of simplicity. A whole new slew of gadgets enter my life that, as yet, are definitely not designed to work together, nor do they seem to be headed that way. I’m trying to learn my lessons and be more cautious, but sometimes things come full circle. I’m hoping that Apple might be turning around one part of my ‘gadget life’ that has been causing me some headaches.

Health.

The last few years has seen the rise of the ‘quantified self’, a rapidly expanding universe of gadgets and services that help us understand more about ourselves by surfacing data that us geeks can analyse and use to drive better behaviours. That’s the theory at least. You might have heard about it.

My first venture into the world of health gadgets was the Nike+ system. A small plastic dongle strapped to my shoe which talked to my phone and tracked my runs. At the time I was training for a 10K and as soon as I got home and had cooled down I was on the computer, checking the data.

That behaviour made me realise that I was using the data to push myself to run further/faster and generally kept me focused on my progress. Little did I know that it was only the beginning.

My second venture into the world of the“quantified self” was when I purchased a set of Withings scales a few years ago. It was one first offering and I’ll admit it was mostly the geek factor that appealed. This was the start of a wave of devices and wearables that have since been launched.

A year or so after buying the Withings scales, I bought a Fitbit. Partly as a way to gauge my day to day activity levels, partly to give it a shot and see if it did actually make a difference, I think I still had vague notions of how my, now discarded, Nike+ system had worked for me and wondered if Fitbit could do the same.

At this point I will say this; if Withings had announced their plans to launch a similar device to the Fitbit pedometer I would’ve held off and bought that. But they hadn’t, so I didn’t. And, with that said, I’ll skip the period since I bought my Fitbit I’ve already blogged about most of it, as I want to look ahead.

Right now, like many many others, I have a mixture of devices and services, none of which really talk to each other. I use Runkeeper for tracking runs, Fitocracy for tracking gym visits, Fitbit for daily steps, Withings for my weight and blood pressure. I’ve dabbled with other services but those are the ones that stuck for me but there are many many others.

Like other people I know, I have my own hacked together system as, ultimately it’s my data, about me. It’s annoyance that there isn’t much in the way of sharing and cross-compatibility but I understand why, especially for the Fitbit and Withings of the world who were early into the game and are, still, trying to grab the majority of the marketplace.

Alas none of the services I’ve looked at have solved this problem.

What I really need is something that works on a single device that I always have with me, that can accumulate all the data into one place. Apple Health might just be the solution I want.

Right now, as it’s still new, I’ve no idea if Apple Health will be the answer to my problem but I do know this; the gadget and service makers have had their chance to work together to create something bigger than their own selves, they could’ve created a ‘health’ ecosystem but they didn’t. I think they’ve now missed their chance.

Recent noises from Fitbit stating that they won’t be sharing data with Apple Health seems a little like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum… ‘but I don’t wanna’, and whilst Fitbit does talk to a lot of services, as do Withings, there is no central place where I can get all of my data without buying into a specific ecosystem.

Withings, on the other hand, are already integrating to Apple Health and are issuing statements saying that they will continue to work with Apple to improve the service.

It’ll be interesting seeing this space develop, especially with the behemoth that is Apple now in play, and for once I think I’ll be cautious and let the solution develop. Perhaps that means adopting the ‘most popular’ service over the best one, but if that means a simpler life for me, then I’m happy to make that compromise.

Update: Reading this article – Apple Yanks Fitbit – And Looks Like A Bully For Doing So – made me rethink my position but, on reflection, I’ll stand by what I’ve said. Apple will get HealthKit ‘right’, most of their new services don’t start all that well as they take small steps rather than big ones on stuff like this (think iCloud, over 3 years old (under the iCloud branding) and only now is it hitting its stride).

2 comments

  1. not specifically related to this post, but I’ve found myself here for the first time in a while, and may I say that your writing here is splendid?? Well, it is. Clearly structured, thoughtful, interesting. Just wanted to tell you that.
    As you were.

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