Meet Fitbit Labs: The New Initiative Putting a Step-Hungry Pet on Your Wrist and So Much More

Fitbit Labs

If you’ve ever wanted an early look at Fitbit’s cutting-edge products, now’s your chance: Fitbit Labs, a new initiative that uses the latest research and technologies to deliver experimental* apps and clock faces to your wrist, kicks off today. Starting now, Fitbit Ionic users like you can begin testing two of these unique experiences, with three more rolling out later this month.

Dig into the details of each of these innovative, new Fitbit experiences and then learn how this new initiative came about—and what it means for the future of health and fitness tracking.

The Apps and Clock Faces Available Now

Fitbit Pet Fitbit Labs petThis clock face series allows you to adopt one of four virtual pets—choose from two dogs and two cats—and use your steps to keep them happy. Walk enough to feed your pet at least eight treats (1 treat = 10 percent of your daily step goal) otherwise it will leave you the next day to find someone else who will. Each night your pet will go to sleep at around 10 p.m., gently encouraging you to hit the hay, too.

Think Fast Fitbit Labs Think FAstThink Fast is a two-minute game that tests your mental sharpness by assessing your ability to rapidly and accurately switch between tasks, like matching colors, prices, or types of fruit shown. Why is that cool? In your daily life you often need (or attempt) to do multiple things at once, such as adjusting the car stereo while trying to keep the vehicle safely on the road. Cognitive psychology research shows that in such situations your brain doesn’t do both tasks at once, but actually switches back and forth between them. This is inherently difficult for your brain, and results in a delay that researchers refer to as a “switch cost.”

Play Think Fast regularly to track your performance over time, and start to pay attention to how your daily habits affect your “switch cost.” For example, research indicates that reductions in sleep quality can result in impaired cognitive performance and reduced task-switching ability. Can you improve your score by spending more quality time in bed?

Note: This game does not provide advice or diagnose or treat any condition. Do not rely on this game for decisions on driving, operating machinery or any other activity requiring mental sharpness.

What Lands Later This Month

Mood LogFitbit Labs Mood LogThis interactive clock face helps you track your emotional state over time by prompting you to report on your current experiences (something scientists call ecological momentary assessments). Researchers have shown that a wide variety of emotions are related to fluctuations in mood and energy; capturing these two dimensions is a convenient way to assess your emotional state.

Here’s how it works with Mood Log: You set the frequency of the prompts in your settings, and then throughout the day Ionic will buzz and the clock face will ask you to evaluate your mood and energy levels. Not only can you keep track of your frowns and smiles, you can also tap on your activity stats to switch between heart rate, calories, steps, and active minutes on the clock face.

Tennis Fitbit Labs TennisWear your watch on your racquet wrist and get swinging for insights into your playing style and a breakdown of your shots by forehand, backhand, and serve. You’ll also be able to track match scores right on your Ionic.  

Treasure TrekFitbit Labs Treasure TrekPrepare to walk more than the plank! This game uses your steps to power your pirate ship on the search for sunken treasure. The more steps you take the more gold you’ll uncover. Find enough of the shiny stuff to upgrade your ship and crew, plus adopt pets to help you make unique discoveries. Gold earned in Treasure Trek can only be used to obtain in-game upgrades; it cannot be traded and has no actual monetary value. Also, you aren’t actually a pirate.

Fitbit Labs Dashboard
A web-based component for Mood Log, Tennis, and Think Fast that allows you to view your history, insights, and trends over time will also be available by end of year.

Fitbit Labs Think Fast Dashboard

Additional apps and clock faces from Fitbit Labs will be added to Fitbit OS throughout 2018 and beyond.

The Story Behind Fitbit Labs

For every new product and experience that lands in your hands, countless others are waiting in the wings. That’s because launching a new feature is a time- and resource-intensive process that requires the dedicated work of multiple teams. Inevitably some ideas that are really cool or for a more niche audience get left on the cutting room floor. Until now!

The launch of Fitbit’s new operating system and software development kit (SDK) has given Fitbit the means to experiment and iterate faster, spurring a new initiative called Fitbit Labs.

In support of this enterprise, Fitbit Research—a team filled with men and women who not only know how to examine and brainstorm potential features, but also have the skillset to develop, test, and deploy them—is now tasked with dreaming up and more quickly delivering innovative new experiences for Fitbit Ionic users.

“It was difficult to get prototypes quickly into users’ hands so we can learn and iterate,” says Robert da Silva, staff research data scientist at Fitbit. “Now we have an SDK that allows us to create, develop, and launch unique apps and experiences for a variety of audiences quickly. Fitbit Labs is enabled because of all the great work that’s happening at Fitbit on the SDK and other platforms that are being built for Ionic.”

How Fitbit Labs—And Its Products—Are Different

Fitbit Labs isn’t just going to give Ionic users earlier access to new Fitbit experiences, it will provide a whole new way of developing new products.

“Now we can take more of the adventurous ideas that we’ve been thinking about and get them into users’ hands,” says da Silva.

To do that, Fitbit Labs is focused on releasing apps and clock faces that are works in progress—meaning they’ll continue to build and improve on them (with a few exceptions; see below) using your feedback, data, and the latest technologies.

5 Reasons Why Fitbit Labs is Great for Fitbit—And You!

It accelerates innovation. Users can now uncover many unique dimensions of their health and fitness on Ionic,” says Fitbit Labs Product Manager, Shikha Nalla. “With this new, experimental platform, we can quickly explore new concepts for some of the harder research challenges, like quantifying mood and mental acuity.”

It broadens Fitbit’s offerings. “Fitbit Labs increases our radius of opportunity because we can try more things, see what really sticks, and then dig into those deeper,” says da Silva. “So if someone comes to us and they want to lose weight, we can have five different tools to offer them instead of two.”

It addresses niche audiences. “In a huge way, Fitbit Labs allows people to have a more personalized experience by being able to select the apps that match their interests,” says Nalla. “Using the SDK, we can make something that is really dedicated to a particular group of users.” For instance, the Tennis app may not appeal to everyone, but those who play tennis and use the new app will get a lot of out of it.

It fuels better products. “With Fitbit Labs we can start to experiment and see which things resonate with people during the development process,” says Shelten Yuen, Fitbit’s vice president of research, and then double down on those things. “It will also allow people to track different kinds of data—such as mood, mindfulness, and mental alertness—which can then be looked at in an anonymized form so we can make better, more meaningful features.”

It’s just plain fun. “What we’re ultimately trying to do is motivate people,” says Yuen. “So we’re going to use data science with gaming and other types of interventions to try to get people to move more, sleep better, eat better, etc.” You can already see this with the Fitbit Pet clock face series and the Treasure Trek app, which provide an alternative representation of steps for those who aren’t motivated by trying to hit a specific number.

The Nuts and Bolts of How This is Going to Work

The only rule of Fitbit Labs is that there are no rules. Ok, that’s not exactly true. Any features and experiences created need to be smart, insightful, motivating, and explorative. After that, the future of an app or clock face depends on multiple variables. Here are a few potential scenarios:

    1. The product is a hit! Apps and clock faces that are a resounding success with Ionic users may be made into more integrated experiences within Fitbit.
    2. It’s popular, but not ready for the big time. Fitbit Labs will continue to develop and improve it.
    3. It gets discontinued. “We don’t want to pull stuff—that’s never our goal,” says da Silva. “But it could happen if an app becomes obsolete or there were a critical reason for it, like instability.”

Bottom line: “Some of these things might be amazing,” says Yuen. “And in other cases we may be trying lots of new ideas and cutting some later. It’s a little bit hard to predict, because it really is an experiment.”

Experience the Future of Health and Fitness Tracking

Start using Fitbit Labs apps and clock faces today (instructions here). Although Fitbit Customer Support doesn’t provide troubleshooting for Fitbit Labs apps or clock faces at this time, users can connect with each other on the Ionic Help Forum.

Ionic users are welcome to provide feedback by filling out this form.  Share the good and the bad—the features and experiences you want and the ones you can’t live without. The future of health and fitness is in your hands—and on your wrist!

*Because Fitbit Labs content is more experimental in nature, users may experience minor issues, and the time period for which apps and clock faces are available may be limited.

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