fitbit adventures

Will Fitbit Adventures Keep You Stepping?


Fitbit has a new feature this month, which is kind of a big deal. While the leading fitness wearable company does all the usual tweaks to its software, it doesn’t roll out a lot of new content. So how do Fitbit’s new Adventures measure up?

I’m a fan of Fitbit. I wrote about them for an investment report last year, and was impressed by the research suggesting Fitbit is effective at increasing physical activity. My wife bought a Fitbit Charge based on my enthusiasm about the company, and I bought a Charge of my own based on her enthusiasm for it. It’s on my wrist now; I pace whenever I need new sentences or hourly steps.

Fitbit serves many audiences and offers a wide range of products. It has cheap pedometers and high-end smartwatches. It presents its app with a toolkit design that encourages users to prioritize measurements like heart rate or hourly activity level. I’m always a little skeptical about whether the typical user changes the defaults, but the options are there and relatively easy to use.

So far, so good. The hardware is excellent. The app is usable. Why mess with something that works well?

Fitbit Tries to Keep Users on The Trail

The biggest problem facing any fitness product is continued motivation. Everyone starts exercising with good intentions, but it’s oh, so tempting to slack off. Enough people never use that gym membership that it’s become part of gyms’ business model. I’ve consulted with activity tracker makers who were desperately looking for game elements that would keep users going.

It’s a tough problem, and Fitbit has to deal with it too. Their basic tracking feature is great for people like me who grew up on coin-op arcade games and high scores. There’s a nice system of achievement badges that provide colorful, intermittent, sharable rewards — standard motivation done very well. Even so, a third of all activity trackers end up in a drawer after six months. Users get tired of missing goals, or constantly wearing the band, or they just get bored.

fitbit monarch
Pretty butterflies are very motivating, though.

Fitbit Adventures is clearly designed to perk up that last group. Its initial release offers three virtual hiking trails through Yosemite National Park. Unlike the older “Challenges” feature, Adventures are aggressively non-competitive. There is a little pressure to hit a daily step goal, but the focus is on reaching landmarks and picking up collectible nuggets of park trivia and fitness information along the way.

The landmarks are the highlight of each trail. There are eight or nine scenic stopping points that serve up a panoramic vista at the appropriate step count. The pictures are lovely, and you can pan across them by moving your mobile device. Each landmark is an enchanting moment… the first time you see it.

But Where’s the Content?

That’s the problem with Fitbit Adventures. The fun of discovery wears off fast, and there are only three hikes to take. The collectibles seem to be randomized, so there’s some variety there, but they disappear if you don’t pick them up soon after you trigger them. You have to look at your phone a lot if you want to “catch’em all”, which is not a core fitness activity.

I blew through the content in a few days. A more typical user might get a week or two out of it, but it’s not long before there’s nowhere new to go. Fitbit now has to deal with the age-old problem that affects almost every game as a service: players blast through content a lot faster than developers can create it.

As it stands, the main value of Fitbit Adventures seems to be novelty. If your interest flagging, then the release of this feature will perk it up for a little. Fitbit probably saw a bit of a usage bump during the last couple of weeks, but that seems likely to tail off as the new feature fades into the background.

On the other hand, those beautiful panoramas did have a lasting effect in our household — we’re now planning a trip to Yosemite next year. Proof positive that you can supply the motivation, but you can’t always be sure what behavior you’re going to shake loose.


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Copyright 2016 The Roaming Designer

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