It's no secret that I am a big fan of the Bluetooth Smart technology and new peripherals. When I am in the local Apple Store I always find myself looking at the shelf with the Panasonic Hue lights, fitness trackers and iGrill thermometers. We are heading into an era where everything can talk, even lightbulbs.
When I came across the Misfit Shine project I couldn't resist and backed it almost immediately. At the time, it wasn't Bluetooth powered. That didn't matter. The project pitch was professional, motivated and Misfit sounded passionate.
Now that the Shine has shipped I thought I'd share the story behind the Misfit Shine as seen by a backer and now a 2 week Shine user.
Back in November, 2012, I found myself introduced to a new, slick looking project on IndieGoGo. Misfit Wearables had a very well executed project idea and the presentation quality to back that up. What first struck me was how much the prototypes looked like something that fell out of Jony Ive's R&D Wonderland. Polished edges, brushed aluminium and laser-drilled LED light indicators. With a design that was not typical of the average fitness trackers at the time — like the Fitbit One — it did away with plastic and went for sexy aluminium.
I was sold, and so were many others. By the time the campaign ended they had raised $846,675. Over 8x the $100,000 they asked for.
One aspect about the project that interested me straight away was that they had chosen to sync with a novel, yet-to-be-described method that was not Bluetooth or WiFi. They demonstrated the device sitting on the screen of an iPhone and syncing with no traditional wireless technology at the helm. At the time there were many theories from capacitive touch "morse code" from the Shine and including an idea of using high-pitched sound received by the devices microphone.
Over the months the Misfit team delivered regular and informative updates to the backers. This included photos of the manufacturing process, one of which was how they chose the perfect shade of grey for the Shine, to video's demoing how the Shine was going to interface with their owners. This level of interaction and detailed updates to backers is key to a successful campaign.
After funding the hardware did change slightly. The face of the Shine went from 16 LED's to 12 so that it could function as a watch and the LED's changed from red to white. Iterations of which make the Shine a much better and useful product.
Not surprising for new hardware start-ups, and in general for crowd-funded campaigns, the shipment time slipped. Cited to a lengthened hardware development, testing and component procurement time along with some diverse public holidays spanning over Misfits many international locations. It's fascinating to see, over time, how new hardware start-ups get to manufacturing with all the troubles that it brings. Slowly these issues are getting easier and faster to overcome.
On top of the shipment delay from June to mid-July the project had also announced that they wouldn't have Android support at launch. Android support was pegged at "early next year".
With that was offered a 100% refund if desired or a $25 Misfit credit after the Shine was shipped. Another great sign of a business that is putting customers first.
One of the last updates before the Shine was shipped was that they changed the syncing method from what was used in the campaign introduction. A post on the Misfit Wearables blog, titled: "SPOILER ALERT: HOW THE SHINE DATA TRANSFER WORKS", answered the question that was asked often about the Shine, its syncing. The original technology was indeed cool. They were prototyping high frequency audio data transfer coupled with the touch sensitivity on the mobile device. But, alas, it would appear the technology was too cutting edge and didn't offer the end-user quality they expected.
In comes my favourite technology, Low Energy Bluetooth (BLE). Whilst the idea that the Shine donned in its aluminium shell would inhibit RF turned out not to the Faraday cage as was feared. With iOS having rather solid support for BLE and Android not too far away it would be a great fit for the Shine to meet its end-user quality expectations and functionality.
Then in early July the Shine started shipment. 7,500 orders to 64 countries. By early August the Shines started arriving in backers mailboxes including mine.
Arriving in a large padded FedEx sleeve was the comparatively small Shine box.
A nice "Thank You" card for being a backer, the Shine box and Sports Band. In the box was the Shine, a "Battery Tool", two CR2032 batteries and a magnetic clasp attachment. The instructions inside show how to install one of the batteries to give the Shine some life — 4 months worth per battery.
After the quick installation of the battery it was time to install the Shine app get get set up.
The box itself feels a little cheap. It didn't fold together correctly and would appear to be built rather quickly but in this case all it had to do was keep the Shine safe until delivery. It did that job well.
The introductory process of having to install the battery should make sure the end users understand this process which also includes an extra battery with the Shine as a great bonus.
To properly test the Shine I had to get off my arse, away from the desk. I ventured outside and took the Shine for a short walk with my Fitbit One to see how they compared.
After a 30 minute walk down to the local park I compared the step count of the Shine to the One. Both clipped to my jeans coin pocket.
With only 12 steps difference it was clear that they both were as accurate as each other — allowing for test environment inaccuracies.
The Shine and Fitbit One show approximately the same amount of steps after a 30 minute walk. 12 “steps” difference, probably my fault.— Alex Eckermann (@alexeckermann) August 5, 2013
However, the Shine app doesn't focus on steps but rather activity as 'points'. Not a strict or defined term but it works well in many situations when steps aren't relevant. When swimming or cycling the Shine will use its own methods of determining how vigorous those activities are and for how long. Starting a specific activity is done by the user triple tapping the Shine, confirmed by an LED animation. Once the activity is over then triple tap to stop tracking. The mobile application then knows how to categorise the activity by a preset under the 'My Shine' screen.
Like other fitness wearables, the Shine keeps an eye on sleeping quality. At this time it doesn't show detailed information, like the Fitbit, where it shows awakenings during sleep. However, all the data is there awaiting a simple app and firmware update to deliver that feature. When trying the sleep tracking it felt a bit odd having the Shine on my wrist at night since I am used to wearing a watch during the day and felt like I had left my watch on. But thats just a small initial mind hurdle that I got over almost immediately. Sleep is tracked like an activity, triple tap before dozing off and again when out of bed.
The following week
Over the next few days I continued to test the Shine in different situations. I found that the cycling activity component works better when the Shine is around my ankle. Not surprisingly, the Shine needs to detect the motion of my legs rather than arms to judge how active my cycling is.
All of this activity was to build up to a weekly goal. In the setup process I had a choice of selecting what activity goal level I would like. Not being very active I chose the first and smallest goal of 600 'points' a day. I managed to hit that on some days but I just came short at the end of the week of reaching the weekly goal.
The user interfaces for days and weeks feel lacking initially. Coming from using the Fitbit it felt like I was missing all of the data I was used to. Over time I became used to the separation from arbitrary terms like steps and started to focus on what really matters, being active.
Syncing doesn't require the Shine is placed on the screen. Because its Bluetooth it can be anywhere, it just has to be in range. Tap the circle on the sync page and it will start doing its thing.
I did use the Shine as a watch since it took the place of my wrist watch — I do miss having a 'proper' watch on. It looks like wrists are going to be a prime piece of real estate that will get a bit crowded soon. I'll probably be up to my elbows soon.
It's gorgeous. The aesthetic and quality are at the level of a company like Apple, not something produced from a crowdsourced campaign. It feels and looks refined with a lot of thought going into every aspect of its appearance and operation. The story of the Shine reflects that with several hardware alterations made before shipping, even pushing out the shipment date.
The tap interface with the Shine is good but not great. I do have issues at times with having to repeat taps because it did not recognise a pattern. It takes a bit of trial and error to know what the Shine needs to properly detect a tap.
One of its great features is that it is water resistant. The Shine is guaranteed up to 5 atmospheres, with the possibility of an un-guaranteed 10 atmospheres. Meaning, it can be left on when in the shower or going for a swim — never needing to take it off. Compared to the Fitbit One this is a very important difference. My biggest problem with using the Fitbit One was that I forgot it often or had to take it off. So far the Shine has been on me 24/7 since I got it.
The LED ring display uses one of the techniques used in aluminium Apple devices. The LED's shine through laser-drilled holes of an inconceivable size rendering them invisible to the naked eye but allow the LED's to shine through.
Its light. Weighing in at 9 grams, with the battery in. When wearing it with the sports band one could easily forget it was there.
The sports band itself is nice with some added bling. The 'pin' that holds the band in the desired size is made from the same aluminium as the Shine and has the same treatment, a nice darker grey with a shiny, polished edge.
It holds onto the Shine well being a stretchy material that clasps onto the Shine by its indented edge. There is little chance that the Shine will pop out even with the most vigorous of activity.
The Shine also comes with a magnetic clasp. Made from the same stretchy material it can clip on anywhere and when that magnet connects with the Shine it isn't going to go anywhere. Either clipped to the coin pocket on a pair of jeans or on clothing it won't budge.
I preferred to use the Sports band but I did start off using the clip and it worked very well taking the spot where I normally attached my One.
The first step in the application after installation is setting up an account. For me I conveniently used my Facebook account provided by the iOS Account manager. From there is just needs height, weight and gender.
What struck me straight away with the applications primary interface is how much it looks like iOS 7. Either by design or fluke it is definitely ready for whats coming in September.
It is a nice simple interface that almost feels lacking to begin with. The daily goal is shown as a dial which more often than not shows a rather lacking level of daily activity — for me at least. The dials lack of appreciation for my daily activity is a motivator that over the two weeks has me walking down to the park and getting back on the bike.
But this application is no Fitbit or detailed account of every aspect of daily existence. It is a step away from raw data and away from being over obsessed about steps, calories and the like. Wether or not that obfuscation works for most people will have to be seen.
The settings area is basic but quite adequate. It allows one to define what activity they are partaking when triple tapping the Shine. However, that can become a bit impractical as daily I track sleeping but will also need to track cycling. So is the flow then to change it and sync or is it all handled by the iOS application? So far I have not found out.
The applications main focus is to get the user to reach the daily goal. Its main view does that.
Double tap the face of the Shine to see the daily goal progress and, if chosen in the settings, also see the current time. Triple tap the Shine to start and then again to stop an activity.
A very nice and simple interaction. However, it takes some getting used to. As mentioned earlier, its not going to get it right all the time and I have often had to repeat a tapping gesture to get the Shine to respond. I have confidence that over time the engineers will figure this out and its just one simple firmware update away.
It is a very, very polished product considering it was crowd funded. The level of fit and finish is at a level that is set by companies like Apple. There is no denying that the Shine takes some of its attributes from Apple's industrial design style. But more than just the material aspects; the product also achieves something more, making its human attachment more active.
Double tapping the Shine to see the daily goal becomes a motivation to do something more to hit the goal for the day. On may occasions I have altered my day's plans over the past couple of weeks to be able to meet the goal. I have run up and down the stairs at home to get that last slice in the activity pie before midnight to achieve the goal. Wether or not that's just temporary or a phase I am going though, I am not sure and time will be the ultimate judge.
It differentiates itself by not focussing on the raw data. By offering a simplified daily points goal it is inclusive of a lot of different activities without focussing on the typical "steps" metric that some activities don't involve. Some activity trackers focus too closely on steps and make entering other activities, like cycling, a chore. I never ended up adding cycling activities to my One which meant that activity was unrecorded.
I generally see products in a couple of categories. Oportuisitic products are ones that take advantage of the fashion of the time and give the consumer what they think they want. One could look at Fitbit and see that it gives consumers all the bells and whistles to track almost every aspect of their fitness and lives. It offers some deeper analysis but in the end the product is just giving the consumer raw data and having them deal with it.
Then there are refined products. Refined products don't initially offer all the bells and whistles and from the outside can actually offer something left-of-field from what the consumer thinks they want. No in-depth data for nerds to calculate. Offer something simpler and more meaningful. It comes from thought, refinement and iteration that goes into making a product to achieve something more. To give a product purpose and a goal. This is what I see in the Shine. Something more than just generating data that then the consumer has to interpret. The little device gives the user a goal to aspire to, something that doesn't need to be calculated or thought about.
It has affected my overall fitness. Since I am currently freelancing from a home office its quite easy to spend a full day behind a desk. With that comes the shame of a daily goal that is less than half complete. So I started walking down to the park, when I can, and getting on the bike. Things that only take 30 minutes out of the day but slowly and surely will become routine and, hopefully, I can then start to raise that daily goal.