Yikes, it has been a while and I’m out of the habit. Just one topic today because it runs a bit long. I have more in reserve for next time so the wait will not be so long.

Activity tracking

I love my Apple Watch. At a glance I can see weather conditions (four separate measurements), the day and date, how far away my next train is, and even the time of day. It also alerts me to various events and communications. And one more thing… my activity rings.

Now that I am very familiar with how the rings work, they serve as a useful guide to my days to let me know if I’m slacking off or crushing it. But they do this only in a general sense because I know how they should look. At a detailed level they are completely inappropriate.

The stand ring I have least problem with. Most of the time I’m thankful for any reminders to get up and move (just standing is not enough), and I generally have no problem getting the 12 hours if I don’t slack off. The one time it irked me was when I did an all-nighter for work (for which I travelled before and after — it was a hell of a weekend).

Well done? I’m not sure that’s the kind of encouragement that should be on offer.

The exercise ring is a bit of a… pointless exercise. You need 30 minutes. What if you want to exercise more? You can’t up the goal to reflect that. I routinely double and often triple this ring just with my daily commute plus lunchtime walk.

Then there’s the most flexible one. The activity ring. You can set the goal however you want for this. But I have never bothered changing my goal since I first set it to 3,000 kJ. Why? Because while it’s often well below my achievement for a work day (today I’m over 5,000) it is also often well above what I will get for a weekend day. And therein lies the real problem.

There is one set of goals, two of them fixed in stone, that you have to repeat every day. That’s not how I live my life and I think it’s not how most people live their lives. I’m sure if you ask a personal trainer, they’ll tell you rest days are important. If you set your goal low enough for rest days, your active days will make a mockery of it.

My first thought is there should be a weekly goal, or perhaps a per day average, measured over a week, or even a moving average over a week. It should be a week I define, too. I’d actually like a Wednesday to Tuesday week because of the on call aspect of my job which uses that.

But even then, is it right to reward the user for crossing a line, or should we be encouraged into activity on a continual basis? Who among us, for instance, hasn’t seen that red ring completion animation and decided we can then slack off?

It strikes me that machine learning could be brought to bear here to offer encouragement with a modicum of comparison to previous efforts, but in a way that doesn’t suggest failure for slow days nor an obvious finish line to collapse on the other side of. Bringing location into the mix would be great, too. If I’m home all day, don’t berate me for not getting the activity in but do, perhaps, suggest going for a walk. It shouldn’t be hard to learn that my work days a very consistent and my weekends not.

There is so much more that could be done to encourage us to be more active without gameifying the whole thing as it is now. The rings should probably go, but I don’t know what would take their place. I bet Apple could figure that out.

That concludes this edition of Echoes. The comments are open, but will be moderated for civility. Alternatively you can hit me up on Twitter, where I go by @zkarj.

Cover image by Frank Busch on Unsplash

Categories: Echoes


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