Jawbone, a company known for fashion-minded Bluetooth headsets and iPod speakers, has announced the launch of UP, a durable, water-resistant bracelet that feeds a companion app with sleep and activity data. Sound familiar? It should. This is actually the second launch for UP, which made headlines when it was announced in July 2011, and sold hundreds of thousands of units on Black Friday of last year, according to CEO Hosain Rahman in an interview with Wired.
That launch was followed by three weeks of users reporting major problems with the device, and finally by a voluntary refund program and a halt on production in early December. Although Jawbone has been lauded for an artful and responsible handling of the fiasco, it was still a major setback for the company's first foray into self-tracking.
Engadget reported that the device's widely reported problems -- issues with devices not holding a charge or failing to sync with the mobile app -- stemmed from two issues. One was with water: the company reportedly only conducted tests with pure, room temperature water, but consumers exposed the bands to warm, soapy water, which compromised the promised water resistance. The other issue was that the electronics inside the bracelet weren't up to the twisting and bending users subjected the device to. It was a lesson for the industry in what it takes for a wearable to be truly wearable.
Jawbone offered a full refund at the time, with or without a return of the device, and announced a temporary stop on production -- which ended up lasting nearly a year. They've used that time to troubleshoot the hardware problems with the device, but also to refine and develop the software. Their new press release boasts "nearly three million hours of real-world testing" on the device, but otherwise conspicuously ignores the product's previous incarnation.
The bracelet, designed by fashion and tech designer Yves Behar, comes in eight colors and three sizes and syncs with the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. The bracelet itself tracks movement and sleep, and gives feedback in these areas -- reminding the user to get up and move if they've been inactive too long and waking them up at an ideal point in their sleep cycle. The UP system also tracks mood and eating habits, but these have to be logged directly into the app by the user. The food tracking, while still mostly manual entry, is more sophisticated than it was last year, allowing for barcode-scanning and calorie tracking.
UP's relaunch takes it into a wide field of competitors like BodyMedia FIT, Nike FuelBand, and Fitbit, whose FitBit One product was also announced today, and also offers a sleep tracker with a silent alarm. Fitbit One also boasts Bluetooth syncing, unlike UP, which still syncs and charges with a cord. Health tracking is shaping up to be a crowded field this holiday retail season, and shoppers will be voting with their wallets for the next leader in the market. That will be one test of Jawbone's comeback. Another will be how the new UP bracelet will be fairing over the next three weeks -- and the years to come after that.