The Jawbone UP24 represented the apex of those early, step-focused fitness trackers. Alongside the Fitbit Flex and the Nike+ FuelBand range, the stylish UP24 heralded the true beginning of the connected self era.
For many, it was their first wearable technology purchase, beyond a digital watch. It’s part of the enduring legacy of wearable tech that it was possibly the first truly wearable fitness tracker. It sparked the wearable tech industry we enjoy today – and Wareable wouldn’t exist without it.
The UP24 revolutionised the quantification and visualisation of movement and rest, with insightful and accessible reporting that helped people move towards goals and check their progress in relatively real-time. It was untethered, it was life without wires; stylish and comfortable enough to merit the always-on remit evoked by the name.
Jump to 2019: Best fitness trackers you can buy today
Five years on, in a climate of consumer devices bringing lab-quality scientific data in athletic performance, sleep quality and overall health, the Jawbone UP24 looks decidedly dated, but its influence cannot be understated. Jawbone opened doors for new hardware companies and opened the minds of the smartphone-buying public to the benefits of tracking their bodies.
The UP24 fitness tracker was a big upgrade on the original 2011 device, bringing a refined design, a host of new features and resolving some serious first-gen gremlins.
Minus the ability to cross reference step data with heart rate and GPS, the UP24 gleaned distance and calorie data from the built-in 3-axis accelerometer, while judging your sleep length based-upon the infrequency of your movements.
The only catch was having to remember to press the sleep tracking button every night, but it was a small price to pay for the dataset informing how you slept night’s sleep and how it measured against your targets.
The 2013 model was slightly slimmer, but retained that loose fitting (no need for skin contact with no HR sensor) and comfort thanks to that rubber-coated build. Yves Béhar’s colourful design looked like something you’d actually want to wear, while many wearables of the era continued to resemble something you’d win in an arcade.
“Prior to the UP band, most wearables were typically ugly black plastic products that looked like they had been designed by an engineer,” Ben Wood of CCS Insight told Wareable.
“Jawbone took a different approach, working with the designer Yves Béhar who was the Chief Creative Officer at the company. He developed a quirky design with brightly coloured plastics that not only provided the functionality of a fitness band that was extremely easy to take on and off, but also made a fashion statement.”
A jump in the technology
Beyond the design, improvements were everywhere. It was the first Jawbone tracker in the range to offer wireless syncing to the companion app via Bluetooth Low Energy, something we take for granted five years on. On the previous generation it was necessary to manually sync data through a physical connection.
As for the companion app, it was perfectly designed for newcomers to wearable technology.
A bar graph with two metrics; steps and sleep and the progress towards 100% of your targets. Push notifications informed you if those goals were met, or how you slept the previous nights.
These sound obvious now, but the sense of satisfaction those notifications offered at the time was palpable. It’s forgotten how much simple innovations like these are still staple features of most trackers of the advanced trackers on the market.
Combine these features with the ability to integrate with other apps you might have used to track exercise, caloric intake and even water consumption and you had a relatively holistic view of the big picture. Again, these are features we take for granted today.
If fitness tracking hardware had failed to evolve, we’d probably still be wearing Jawbone devices But it did. And we’re not. In fact no-one is.
Fitbit flexed. It gradually introduced continuous heart rate tracking, informative displays, functional sleep tracking, new form-factors, water-proofing, a proprietary operating system that is competing on the playing field with the might of Apple.
And it offered a companion app with a completely holistic approach to overall health tracking.
Unfortunately Jawbone’s next steps beyond just steps were a giant leap backwards. Couple that with a perceived lack of durability as the UP24 aged out and suddenly the future was less bright for Jawbone.
“Sadly, it was the cutting edge design of the product that was probably its undoing,” Ben Wood mused.
“The flexible nature of the band that made it so easy to take on and off seemed to put huge pressure on the internal electronics and the failure rate reached worrying levels.
Furthermore, even the slightest amount of water ingress tended to cause big problems. Yves Béhar’s design, which was one of the key things that attracted me to the product in the first place, became its Achilles’ heel.”
The UP24’s was an unmitigated disaster. While the UP2’s new design added automatic sleep tracking (no more remembering to push the button), it felt like a minor update.
However, the hype was around the UP3 – which suffered delays and seriously over-promised and under-delivered. Announced in November 2014 it wouldn’t ship until May 2015. Jawbone was determined to make it water-resistant – something that caused long engineering issues and was eventually canned.
Fitbit wouldn’t release a waterproof fitness tracker until 2016.
The UP3 had a heart rate sensor, but inexplicably, refused to give users access to your bpm data on demand and the less said about the awkward, cheap clasp the better. It was the beginning of the end.
Efforts to relaunch a Jawbone 4, with a new fastening method and NFC for American Express payments came too late. By the end of 2015 its share of a market now eternally changed by the Apple Watch, sat below 3%.
Jawbone went after Fitbit for alleged broad trade secret theft by a former Jawbone employees, but a civil suit ended with a court finding no evidence of misappropriation. Today, it’s the Fitbit brand that has joined the ranks of Biro, Coke, Hoover, Tannoy, Sellotape and Photoshop… not Jawbone.
So how do we look back at the Jawbone UP24 in 2019? To us it represents the thrill of early day fitness and step tracking – long before the world tired of 10,000 steps. It exists in a time where fitness trackers were exciting, and couldn’t be picked up for small change.
But elements also endure. The Jawbone app set the standard for data– and Fitbit, Apple Health and Google Fit have all been driven forward by Jawbone’s incredibly simple and detailed analysis.
And the UP24’s design is still more appealing than many modern day trackers – the new Xiaomi Mi Band 4 may offer a boggling array of technology – but it’s still a black plastic band. The UP24 moved us away from that – and for that, we salute it.