Charged Up: If anyone can make kids move more, it's Fitbit

And should the Ace kids wearable work, it could form lifelong healthy habits
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When I was eight years old, family activities included evenings and weekends of reading books while sat in the same room, reading newspapers while sat in the same room, watching TV while... You get the idea. Plus a few walks in the park, casual games of tennis, trips to the bowling alley - I mean, we did sometimes leave the living room.

And aside from when I get roped into charity 10Ks or Race to the Stones type ridiculousness, my weekend habits haven't changed a great deal for the past twenty or so years. Which is pretty crazy. And by some standards that makes me a failure for Fitbit and friends - no app, no activity tracker has managed to get me to stick to 'keep fit' habits for longer than about six months (the Couch to 5K then to 10K program if you're interested).

Read this: Inside Fitbit's quest to understand how we sleep

Perhaps, though, if my family activities had included step challenges with my friends or family as per the now global Fitbit Ace kids tracker or an adventure game element as on the Garmin Vivofit Jr. 2, I'd stand more of a chance at this age. The Ace is designed for children aged eight and up and, of course, Fitbit hopes it's getting in early with potentially life long customers - a tracker with heart rate the new super sweet sixteenth present.

The short term benefits of getting kids doing more, and more regular, active exercise should be a reduction in childhood obesity but the long term benefits are now thought to include boosts in brain power, professional success and health benefits even if you're a relatively anti-exercise adult.

That's as well as the finding that yes, you're more likely to exercise as an adult if you have grown up doing regular exercise. This could be because exercise can trigger the brain's reward feedback loops, which include producing dopamine and serotonin, may continue enhance motivation for years or even a decade.

So why Fitbit? Its biggest advantage, still, has to be the name recognition and its big - for the industry - sales over the past few years. Its own survey found that 85% of Fitbit-owning parents asked were interested in getting a tracker for their kids. And the new app features have this idea baked in with things like creating a Family Account with a parents view and kids view of stats. Then there's its social features and community, long a strong point next to wearables with similar specs.

Charged Up: If anyone can make kids move more, it's Fitbit

When I saw the Ace - which is a Fitbit Alta - I was a bit disappointed not to see any fun geeky bands and games. That's the route Garmin has gone down with the Vivofit Jr. 2 but that's aimed at kids aged four and above and six and above. Still, I'd like to see more personalisation options. Right now it's only available in Power Purple and Electric Blue (with interchangeable bands) - why not just go big and do the whole rainbow to kick things off? Also the kids view has fun elements like "You caught all the Z's" but the sleep chart still looks identical to the regular Fitbit app - surely there's more to be done here? Perhaps a tweaked UI for tweens and another one for teenagers.

Gamification still looks to be the key here - badges, rewards, challenges against friends, with some messaging and clock faces thrown in - which is hella important since kids are king when it comes to not doing what they're supposed to be doing and just doing whatever they want. As am I which is why I feel qualified to guess how kids will react.

As Yu-kai Chou explains in his excellent TED Talk on gamification, though, you don't need to build an actual game to get users engaged, just use the most suitable tools from game mechanics. And when done right, people will do activities that feel like work or chores but feel like they're having fun. If parents add real world treats into the mix for meeting targets- e.g. extra pocket money, iPad time, fewer chores - this could actually do the trick.

Fitbit's research into sleep habits - for instance how much more sleep they'd recommend to women compared to men - will also come in handy here as age is a big differentiator. The National Sleep Foundation says kids aged six to thirteen need an average of nine to eleven hours sleep a night and it's good to see the app screen showing a lush ten hours 51 minutes of sleep as the example. That's actually yet another area of arrested development - I work best on a solid nine hour snooze. (Though interestingly, the NSF says up to ten hours "may be appropriate" for adults aged 26 to 64).

As a woman-child, it may be too late for me when it comes to long term fitness habits but a bunch of studies have shown that it's easier to form 'good' habits as a child than as an adult. One 2015 study from Brown University, of 21,000 parents, found that kids' habits and routines are unlikely to vary after the age of nine. Nine! The only habit I developed before the age of nine was to hold my pen weirdly so I now have a carbunkle on one of the fingers of my right hand. But hey, that one did stick.


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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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