Chapter 2. Activity Trackers

In this chapter, we take a look at fitness trackers like Fitbit, MisFit, and Jawbone UP, beginning with the early trackers and what they gave us, to the more contemporary ones that employ machine learning to provide an ongoing service. Here, we’ll more clearly draw the lines around services as opposed to commodities and look at how people understand tools as opposed to service delivery. We also take a quick look at some of the technology that powers these types of devices, how some of that technology is now commoditized, and how certain services can fight technological commoditization.

Early Step Tracking

The concept of the pedometer is largely credited to Leonardo da Vinci, who built a number of distance-measuring devices to aid in his cartography. In one of his sketches he added a pendulum to an early version of a surveyors wheel in order to explicitly track the number of steps taken by Roman soldiers (Figure 2-1). Pedometers became somewhat popular with European watchmakers in the 1700s and were of particular interest to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom documented their interest in various letters. In one of those letters, Jefferson describes a pedometer watch he found in Paris in 1786:

It has a second hand, but no repeating, no day of the month, nor other useless thing to impede and injure the movements which are necessary. For 12 louis more you can have in the same cover, but on the back side & absolutely unconnected with the movements ...

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