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Image credit: Daniel Cooper

Shapa’s scale swaps numbers for psychology to help with weight loss

Designed by 'Predictably Irrational' author Dan Ariely.
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Daniel Cooper

Weighing yourself after the holidays can be an emotionally trying process, especially if you've gone heavy on the turkey sandwiches. Oftentimes, the bad news sends you reaching for the comfort of the leftover chips and candy to get you through the cold winter months. However, Shapa, the new scale from behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, is designed to keep you ignorant and possibly thinner.

By removing the drip-drip of data in the micro, the idea is that you can focus on the macro and avoid getting demoralized by your body's shifting weight. Instead, all you'll get is a color, depending on if you're underweight, about right or overweight, but nothing more specific.

Ariely is a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, but is probably more famous for his books and TED Talks. His work looks into how humans make decisions, and how rational -- or irrational -- we are on a daily basis. It should be no surprise that the bulk of the Shapa app is dedicated to training you into better habits through small goals.

On my first day with the scale, I was asked to meet the goal of tidying my bedroom, while on day two I was asked to write down a goal and fix it to my refrigerator. Other aims include setting an alarm on your phone that encourages you to get up every two hours, or to walk down to your gym. You don't need to enter it, mind you, just walk down to the front door and back, to help the habituation begin slowly.

Build-quality wise, the scale itself feels pretty sturdy despite being pretty lightweight, with a wood-effect texture that looks pretty classy. As for the app, it has clearly been designed with some love, and it's certainly not the buggy, error-ridden mess many startups put out on their first attempt.

Over time, it's expected that the combination of secret weight-loss data and your responses to the missions you're sent on will help create a weight-loss profile. After a while, the system will understand what buttons work best to inspire you to put down the bagel and leap onto a treadmill.

There are a couple of issues with using Shapa on a daily basis, however, the biggest one being the lack of a display. I get the idea behind removing the feature, but the hardware demands that you can only weigh yourself with your phone open and the app running. Shapa doesn't work on uneven surfaces, like a carpet, so you're going to have to leave it in your bathroom (or kitchen).

Now, if you're used to weighing yourself in your bedroom, and you aren't in the habit of taking your smartphone into the shower, then you have a problem. Specifically, that you'll need to dash from one room to the other in your towel to fulfill your twice-daily weighing routine. Or, alternatively, abandon the task and resolve to do better in the future, a common refrain amongst us serial dieters.

I'll admit: I've been spoiled by Withings'/Nokia's smart scales, which connect to the internet and upload your vital statistics automatically. But then again, a vanilla smart scale can't, and won't, necessarily trick you into honoring your goals and putting down that bag of corn chips. Shapa's pricey, too, setting you back $129 for a device that's paired with a $9.99 monthly subscription. Order now and you'll get the device for $99 and the monthly rate is lowered to $7.95. That's still a lot, especially when you can pick up an off-brand Bluetooth scale for as little as $25 on Amazon and use a $4 habit-forming app, like Productive to reach the same effect.

After training to be an intellectual property lawyer, Dan abandoned a promising career in financial services to sit at home and play with gadgets. He lives in Norwich, U.K., with his wife, his books and far too many opinions on British TV comedy. One day, if he's very, very lucky, he'll live out his dream to become the executive producer of Doctor Who before retiring to Radio 4.

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