There are things fitness trackers are generally pretty good at. You know, like counting your steps, measuring how many calories you burned. And then there are things fitness trackers are generally bad at. Logging your food intake is a particularly sore point. After all, it's not like the onboard sensors can tell when or what you've eaten, so you have to go through the tedious business of manually entering all your meals. What's more, companies like Jawbone and Fitbit aren't exactly weight-loss specialists, which means their food databases tend to have gaping holes compared to services like Weight Watchers. So, even if you're disciplined enough to keep a food diary, the thing you ate might not even be in the system. That goes double if you eat out -- how are tech companies supposed to know how many calories are in the brownies at that cafe around the corner?
Incidentally, that's where Jawbone thinks it can do better. The company just released a major update to its iOS app, and it's all about weight loss. Accordingly, users can now set a weight goal, at which point the app creates a daily calorie target based on your height, goal, current weight and physical activity (remember that the app can log workouts, in addition to your total step count). Unsurprisingly, it would seem existing Up owners have been clamoring for features like this: According to the company, 76 percent of people who use the Up band have a weight goal in mind, and 84 percent of those who log food do so to lose weight. Makes you wonder why Jawbone didn't address this sooner -- rival Fitbit has let you set a weight goal for ages now.
Things get interesting when you actually start to log your food. For one thing, Jawbone lets you batch-add lots of items at once. So, if you had oatmeal, a banana and orange juice for breakfast, you can do a long-press and then add it all in one fell swoop. (If that sounds like a rudimentary feature, consider this: Weight Watchers' apps still don't let you do batch-add, and its entire business is centered on weight loss.) Also, Jawbone's app learns its users' habits, so it'll surface foods you eat often. Similarly, if you start to add something like fried eggs, the app will show you foods that other people often eat at the same time. Bacon, for example -- people like to eat bacon with eggs.
And now we get to the part where you go to brunch and your tempura oyster frittata isn't in the food database. Then what? Well, Jawbone's app now shows listings for local restaurants, and thanks to integration with recipe/food delivery services like Munchery, PlateJoy,HealthyOut and NuMi by Nutrisystem (coming soon), it can sometimes import the calorie info. Unfortunately, though, if a restaurant isn't represented there, you've got little choice but to turn to crowdsourcing. You could enter the data yourself, for instance, which would involve doing the calorie math on your own (eggs + oysters + home fries). That's what Weight Watchers users do when they go out, and it isn't always precise, depending on who's entering the data. Alternatively, you could ask the restaurant staff about calories, though let's be real: That's kind of awkward. Or, the eatery could add its nutritional info through the same back-end service used to aggregate those restaurant listings in the first place. All told, it's not an especially comprehensive system, but it's better than nothing: While other apps might include chains like Starbucks, they tend not to offer calorie data for mom-and-pop joints.
Throughout, the app shows how many calories each food item is worth, and you can see at a glance how many calories you "have left," depending on your daily target. In addition, though, Jawbone has created what it calls a food score, a single number on a scale from 1 to 10 that illustrates how healthy your food choices are. These numbers are color-coded too, so when you see a score of 1.8 for cream cheese in bright red, you know you've done something wrong. (Ed. note: If cream cheese is wrong, I don't want to be right.) Finally, in addition to seeing your rolling food-score average for the day, you can also see how you've been doing over longer periods of time. Basically, then, the idea is not just to count your calorie consumption, but also to give you information you can use to possibly even change your habits. To that end, Jawbone is also adding some food-related challenges to its "Today I Will" feature. Think: eating a certain amount of fiber for the day. Yum.
Version 3.2 of the Jawbone Up app is available today, but only on iOS for now. The Android app will receive the same update, according to a company rep, but it's still in development. So happy downloading, iPhone users, and Android fans, even if you can't try out the new features today, you might still enjoy Jawbone's interactive food-pairing table -- it's a pretty good way to waste a few minutes at work. You know, after you've had your toasted bagel with cream cheese.