Why you should care
Because the fitness tracker you’ve never heard of might be the sleeker, smoother one for you.
You might think all the cool kids are wearing Fitbit fitness trackers, the Jawbone UP or the Nike FuelBand.
But don’t follow those crowds.
I ventured away from the Fitbit bandwagon last week — and I didn’t make it far, but where I landed is on the Shine activity monitor from Misfit Wearables — a company co-founded by ex-Apple CEO John Sculley. And it’s fair to guess that the Apple influence might have inspired Shine’s design-centric approach. Sporting a coinlike face — hardly different from a watch — Shine can do the same things its competitors do: track your activity through steps, distance and calories. Via Bluetooth connection, the gadget pairs with an iOS or Android app on your smartphone, where you can set goals and track progress. At night, wearing Shine can also analyze your sleep and determine how much “deep sleep” you’re getting per night. But in an increasingly crowded market of wearables, the $120 Shine is differentiated by one stark factor: It’s sexy.
And design wins.
The Shine comes in a classy grey (yes, grey with an “e,” the website insists), jet black, blue topaz and champagne. It’s versatile – there’s the included sport band for your wrist or a clasp to attach to clothing. But you can also buy accessories to hold the Shine: a necklace, leather band, and even special socks and T-shirts that have pockets specifically for the tracker. And since the Shine can display the analog time, it works as an ultramodern watch, too.
Shine’s another reminder of how important design is for consumer wearables. Take Google Glass. San Francisco-techies may have been early adopters of the original nerdy design. But fashion fiends and everyday people would likely never sport it in that form — which is why Google partnered with Ray-Ban and Oakley to take off.
I wore the Shine alongside my usual Fitbit Flex, and the difference was clear. Both provided me useful feedback about my physical activity (aka “sitting disease” — I get it). But alongside the low-profile and lightweight Shine, my Flex looked — and felt — clunky on my wrist.
The Nest thermostat has garnered lots of positive attention — to the tune of $3 billion — for its attention to design. Nest’s founder and CEO Tony Fadell is ex-Apple, and he was instrumental in the first few generations of iPod and iPhone designs. So what about a wearable tech company that has a clear design directive?
Though an underdog, Misfit Wearables might benefit from a changing competitive landscape. Nike is reportedly scaling back on its FuelBand efforts. Even Fitbit stopped selling its new Force tracker in February after some users suffered skin rashes.
The big drawback is that Shine’s community is limited — only about 300,000 units have been shipped — making the social aspect of tracking points in the app far less exciting.
Still, it doesn’t take much to start the party.
Vignesh Ramachandran is a tech buff and journalist working in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @VigneshR.