I got my grandma to review her Fitbit - she had some notes

Free advice for tracker makers looking to broaden their fanbase

For over a year, my grandmother and I have been on a quest to find her the perfect fitness tracker.

It seemed easy - she just wants to count her steps, and just about every wearable does this, right? Not to mention the fact that she is on Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp and Chrome OS (with some assistance). So she knows what's up.

OK, steps weren't everything. She was also interested in Cortana after seeing a bunch of Windows Phone adverts showing people setting reminders and dictating shopping lists. So I thought I'd set her up with a Nokia Lumia 630 (with the big, bright tiles of Windows Phone) and a - now defunct - Microsoft Band 2 that no-one in the office was using.

For starters: The Microsoft Band 2

My grandmother wore this for a few months and it was all going fairly well until one day it conked out and wouldn't charge.

"I was aiming for 5,000 steps a day and I was writing down the steps in my diary," she says. "I was going out more then because the weather wasn't so bad but [the Band 2] helped me to achieve that. I liked the bigger screen better than the Fitbit because I could read it better but a few times on the treadmill it didn't record my one mile walk properly. I have Cortana on my phone now."

As for the fact the wearable is now useless: "It stopped. In the end it wouldn't charge. I'd wore it out I think."

At this point there was a lull of a month or so while I sourced another tracker, sent it to her and then set it up on my next visit. During this period she called me to find out when the next tracker would be ready and said "I feel naked without it!"

The Band 2 had become part of her routine, as the Fitbit is now: "I got up this morning and couldn't find it. I looked down to see what I'd done, whether I'd knocked it off my bedside table... Then I remembered I'd left it to charge downstairs."

I got my grandma to review her Fitbit - she had some notes

Next up: Fitbit Alta HR

Next we tried a Fitbit Alta HR. My grandma had heard about Fitbit (which she pronounces Fitbee) from one of her friends at her weekly water aerobics class. But the first accessory - one where you push the metal studs into holes in the band silicone - was a big no-no after the big clasp of the Band 2.

"The clasp didn't suit me on the second one (the Fitbit). It suited me on the first one (the Band 2) but the second one, I couldn't cope with it at all - because of the arthritis in my hands I couldn't fasten the one that you had to push in."

The second band, which is still slim but only requires sliding the band through a hoop, solved that issue. We ran into a slight problem with the phones too - Windows Phone isn't compatible with the Fitbit Alta HR though it does work with earlier trackers. So we paired it to my Grandad's Sony Xperia Android phone instead. And... she likes it.

"I look at it every day. I aim for 2,000 steps when I'm in the house and can't go out. I use it all the time on the treadmill. I look at it before I get on and I look at it when I've done my mile. It's over 2,000 steps more.

"I read my calories everyday and my heartbeat, it varies terrifically. I can see the difference - if I sit here and I'm reading and I'm not doing anything, it'll drop to 58. I make sure it's always fluctuating. On the treadmill, it does go to 100. I've only ever gone to about 115, that's fast enough for me."

I got my grandma to review her Fitbit - she had some notes

I tell her (as I did originally) that the Fitbit is not medically accurate and heart rate can be +/- 5 or 10bpm but she's more interested in the patterns: "I don't bother about that, I take it for real."

There are still a few misunderstandings, though, despite my initial tutorial and the fact that a friendly nurse has also apparently coached my grandma on what all the metrics on the tracker's screen mean. She tells me her Alta HR shows her that her BMI is 188 before we work out that's 1.88 miles. She knows the last screen as she taps is "how much I've exerted myself" (Active Minutes) but sees a backwards 'Z' not a lightning bolt.

The calories burned is also confusing, mainly because my grandma - and millions of others - just wants a wearable that can track what she's eating too...

My grandma's dream fitness tracker

Here's how my grandma would build an activity tracker if she was in charge. Anyone interested in building fitness lifestyle wearables for people of a certain age (my grandma is 28), take note:

  • Her no.1 request is food tracking: "I'd like it to tell me how many calories was in what I ate before I ate it and a proper running total"
  • A big screen: "I'd love one with a bigger screen definitely"
  • Waterproof but the screen is non negotiable: "It would be brilliant if I could use it at water aerobics because I take it off"
  • Responsive screen: "I have to tap it a few times and tell it to come on, move"
  • A big, chunky, non-fiddly clasp: "A clasp I can manage with my arthritis in my hands"
  • To answer calls: "Wow, that would be brilliant because my phone's in my bag and sometimes by the time I've pulled it out, I've missed the call."
  • Blood pressure monitoring: "If my heartbeat is up to 90-odd, I know my blood pressure is high with my heartbeat like that."
  • App challenges that her friends can do too: "I ask my friend Sandra - 'how many steps have you done?' And she says: 'Oh I don't always put it on.' I said - 'well it's a waste of time you having it!'"

The right attitude

I got my grandma to review her Fitbit - she had some notes

My grandma's not complaining, though: "I can't see anything wrong with it because I love it because I can keep track of everything." I ask her why she wanted a fitness tracker in the first place and why she still uses it.

"I've got to keep me moving. Because of my health issues I've got to keep moving otherwise I would seize up completely and be a complete invalid," she says. "It's true! The physiotherapist told me all this, this morning. He said - 'I think you do well for what you do, because a lot of people won't aim for walking and won't aim for doing anything, exercise wise. And this is why - their legs won't move and why their body won't move.' He said - 'you've got the right attitude! Carry on with what you're doing.'"

Now, while she carries on moving, I'm going to get her a Fitbit with a bigger screen.


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