What does ‘fitness’ mean and why does it matter?

Apple Watch's Activity app
What exactly are fitness trackers tracking?
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Many people say they want to get fit, but what does this actually mean? Fit for what?

The websites of leading fitness trackers, like Apple Watch, Fitbit, Microsoft Band and Jawbone Up don’t shed much light on this question. They talk a lot about the things that their devices measure, and even suggest changes in how we go about our day, but they rarely explain why this matters or what the actual benefits are.

How Cupertino’s rivals plan to survive the Apple Watch

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How does a wearables company survive being Sherlocked? Jawbone has some ideas.
How does a wearables company survive being Sherlocked? Jawbone has some ideas.

In the business world, Apple entering your product category is a little bit like a tsunami crashing into a home aquarium. What had previously seemed like a nice, small and self-contained ecosystem suddenly runs the risk of being obliterated by a giant wave-maker.

When Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch at Apple’s recent media event, the crowd went wild. But exciting as it was for consumers, it represents a seismic shift for the currently $330 million wearable tech industry.

Devices that can serve up smartphone notifications, track fitness goals and even advise us on health matters have the potential to be huge — but they’re not yet. That’s about to change, according to Juniper Research, which forecasts that wearable devices like smartwatches could hit sales of $19 billion by 2018.

What happens to Apple’s marketplace rivals as this sea change takes place? Cult of Mac did some digging to find out how companies like Jawbone and Fitbit plan to survive Apple’s smartwatch revolution.

Yves vs. Ive: 10 of the best product designs not from Cupertino

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Yves Béhar

The only thing uber-designer Yves Behar hasn't turned his hand to yet is Apple computers.

The Swiss-born 47-year-old has crafted popular products like the Jambox, the Ouya gaming micro-console, and the XO Laptop, just to name a few. He's been lauded by Time, CNN, and FastCompany and his work, like Jony Ive's, has been featured in many museums, including those in San Francisco and Behar's hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland.

When I brought home a fizzy-water-making SodaStream Source a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see, emblazoned on the front of the box I picked up at the local Target (not fancy-pants Habitat), "Designed by Yves Behar."

This weird insertion of industrial design into the most basic of retail spaces got me thinking: what else has Behar designed, and how do they fit into our everyday lives? Click through the images above for the 10 best answers to that very question.

August Smart Lock

As Apple gets into the smart home market, they'll need to take a look at August Smart Lock, which Behar designed to be safe, secure, and social. You can program it on the flay and remotely from your iOS device, letting people in with a one-time pass or on a timed basis. It may not have shipped yet, but boy is it gorgeous and functional.

Jambox

Yet another market category definitively cornered by Behar and his team - the portable Bluetooth speaker. The Jambox was the first device in this segment with a decent sound and rugged yet stylish design, making all other newcomers to the space take heed. It came out in 2010, but only took a year to become the top-selling digital speaker in the US.

Jawbone Headsets

If you've ever seen anyone use a Bluetooth headset (the original Glasshole), you're seeing a product category that Jawbone helped define. Behar is the chief creative officer of the company that brought beautiful design and fashion cache to an essentially commodity product, likes Beats has done for music headphones.

JimmyJane Form

Ok, let's be adults here: most folks masturbate. Behar's team came up with a simple, waterproof, rechargeable and ingeniously designed set of vibrators that -- my women friends assure me -- are the best in class. The series is called "Pleasure to the People," and it's a collaboration between JimmyJane's Ethan Imboden and Yves Behar, leading to the Form 2, 3, and 4, as well as numerous design awards. Design matters, people.

Mint Robot Floor Cleaner

The Roomba took the world by storm, offering a vacuuming robot that would clean your entire house without any input from you. Behar's team at Fuseproject created the Mint, a square lozenge of a hard floor cleaning robot that uses your own wet cloths (like the ones from Swiffer) to do the same thing for your hardwood, tile, or linoleum. iRobot liked it so much, the acquired the company Behar created the Mint for, Evolution Robotics, in 2012.

Slingbox

The Slingbox was a breakthrough device: a box that could capture and then "sling" any media it could connect with to your computer, long before the Apple TV or Roku presence in the media landscape. The current version can stream to any laptop, smartphone or tablet via the internet. The overall design looks like it's made for a Braille-reader, but the logo (which still remains today) perfectly captures the idea of media streaming in one small bit of type.

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Ouya Micro Console

The little micro console that could is based on an Android operating system, and costs all of $99. The Ouya took the gaming world by storm when it first arrived on Kickstarter, offering a mobile gaming ecosystem that you could play on your big-screen TV. While indie gamers' ardor may have cooled in the last year or so as the Ouya company struggles to remain relevant, all the hip kids have one of these stylish devices in their homes.

Tylenol Bottle

Here's a redesign that only seems obvious after the fact. The frustration of opening a medicine bottle is a common theme, especially for those who suffer from arthritis and other joint and muscle issues. This new Tylenol bottle can be opened with a palm, but still meets child safety requirements in this country. You can even see through the back to know how many you have left without having to shake the bottle when you pick it up.

Jawbone Up

If you're gonna wear a fitness tracker on your wrist, you want it to look and feel good to wear. Behar's Jawbone created the Up and Up24 to do just that back before "wearables" was even a thing. The Up is designed to track your sleep habits along with your food and calorie usage, and is made to be worn all the time. It's got a rechargable battery that lasts for ten days, so you've always got it with you. It connects with your iPhone and various fitness and productivity apps, making it one of the most robust fitness band ecosystems out there.

XO Laptop

Here's the world's first charity laptop, running on Linux and able to be charged with a crank. This makes the XO Laptop perfect for children in developing countries where electricity and computing devices are unheard of and exhorbitantly expensive. During the Give One, Get One campaign in 2006 and 2007, you could buy a laptop for yourself and donate a second one to a developing country for $199. The XO has gone through four iterations as well as a tablet version, and is a triumph of industrial design.

Coffee app lets caffeine junkies make sense of their habit

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Jawbone's new UP Coffee app can put your caffeine consumption into context. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Apple relies heavily on caffeine. A recent company job listing advertised a role for an iCup technician, with the important task of providing “a fresh brew coffee to all Apple employees within their department.”

Jony Ive’s design team is especially obsessed with the black stuff: For years they kept a $3,000-plus Italian Grimac espresso machine, despite the fact that it leaked all the time. For a while in the 1990s, the design team was even mockingly dubbed “Espresso” for their unabashed love of caffeine culture.

Apple’s not alone in its coffee snob behavior. The rise of coffee shops — with seemingly hundreds of variations on the old coffee standards — have infiltrated every city across the United States: Americans spend $18 billion per year on specialty coffee alone.

But how much do we actually know about it?

Ruh-roh: Your smart food scale and fitness tracker are talking to each other

The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad.Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The folks at The Orange Chef prepare lunch in their San Francisco offices with smart scale PrepPad. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

This may be the last time you feel good about walking half a mile to get a cronut: a calorie-counting food scale and fitness tracker are on to you.

Smart food scale Prep Pad now synchs with Jawbone Up, keeping track of what you’re eating and how many calories you are burning.

It’s latest buddy system in the quantified self movement, where, as we reported earlier, your car is already conversing with your fitness tracker about how much you should be hoofing it instead of driving. Sales of fitness gadgets like the Jawbone Up, Fitbit and Nike + are over the previous year, leaving us with 19 million trackers and trainers strapped to our wrists.