After being down, Jawbone’s UP gets back up again

Roadmap 2012 Yves Behar Fuseproject JawboneThink of it as UP 2.0 — an updated, and improved version of the wearable computing that was launched by San Francisco-based consumer devices company, Jawbone. The original version came to market with much fanfare a year ago, generated a lot of attention, but then fell on hard times when it failed to live up to its lofty expectations. It was a reminder of the product truism — don’t over promise, but always over deliver.

Jawbone, which cut its teeth making noise-cancelling bluetooth headsets for mobile phones, learnt that the hard way. Chastised, it went back to the drawing board, redrew the plans for the gadget and is coming back to the market — again. It is betting that dozens of improvements packed inside the device will help it attract customers again. Another reason to be hopeful — these are early days for wearable computers.

Of course, the device which was designed by  Yves Behar, chief creative officer of the company, doesn’t look too different from the original and has retained much of its design flavor. It still uses a 3.5 mm headphone jack to connect with an iPhone and transfer data to an accompanying iPhone application. It still lacks the wireless connection to either the iPhone or a computer. And it still packs a motion sensor that tracks whether you sleep, walk, run or whatever.

Earlier this week, Hosain Rahman, founder and CEO of the company showed off the new device and also showed a comparison of the innards of the first and second generation devices. From new chips to new materials to even new manufacturing process, Rahman says, that they have put the device through its paces. They tested the device for millions of hours and worked with hundreds of testers to see how the device works in real life.

Rahman, said, they are not taking any chances this time around. Actually he doesn’t have a choice. Since his launch, Nike, the shoemaker has launched FuelBand, a wristband that tracks all your personal physical activity. Nike’s FuelBand is flying off the shelves, thanks to Nike’s massive store network and brand.

It is all about data
For Jawbone, the trick is to not only get people to buy the device, but also to use the accompanying iPhone application to track their personal information — from the amount of sleep, to the steps taken, to the distance walked and calories consumed. And just like the UP’s hardware, Rahman said that they have put a lot of time and effort to make the UP app, more useful and fun — almost like using a social network.

As the device — which remains working for about 10 days with a single charge (which takes about 80 minutes) — begins to gather personal data, it starts to collate it all and become smarter. And eventually the app, will try to help you make better decisions, Rahman said. The trick is to constantly use the device, which feels more comfortable than the original UP, whose edges were too angular to wear comfortably.

The Bottom Line

I have had the device for less than a day and it is hard to form an opinion just yet. I am taking off for New York and taking it along with me and will see how it feels after a week of use. The app, while attractive, hasn’t been put through the paces just yet. Most importantly, it will be a few days before I can offer a reasonable, indepth assessment.