May 31, 2012

Fifteen Signs You're a Fitbit Fanatic

Two years ago (to the day, surprisingly), I highlighted four squared (16) ways to tell if you've become a Foursquare addict. In the ensuing two years, I've continued to enjoy my regular checkins from place to place, but I've got another obsession that also tracks my comings and goings - not in where I go, but what I do, with the Fitbit. Fitbit, as I described in March, has the potential to take your every day activity and match you up against friends, rewarding you with virtual badges and making you exercise more than you might otherwise.

I'm having a blast telling everyone I know who doesn't already have a Fitbit tracker to go get one, and those who do, I'm recommending we connect so we can trade stats and urge each other on. I even picked up a Fitbit Aria scale to wirelessly track my daily weigh-ins and see if that number is trending the wrong way. With that in mind, I thought it was time to trot out fifteen ways you can check if you're a Fitbit fanatic.

1. You take the long way everywhere - and find yourself scheduling meetings or lunches at a place far more convenient for those you're meeting than yourself. You walk, of course.

I'll take the stairs, thank you.

2. You look incredulously at people who take the elevator, even if you're going to the top floor.

3. You've figured out what optimizes you for the most steps across a distance - walking, biking, skipping or jogging.

Time to fall asleep: 5 minutes! I can beat that!

4. You'd pretend to be asleep when your partner wants attention at night because you don't want to mess up your "Time to sleep" statistics, and you think you can set a new record.

Yes, that would be me, pounding out 20,000+ steps on the last day I'd get credit.

5. You read that Foursquare was about to discontinue their 20k step Fitbit badge on June 1st, so you spent much of May 31st walking around in circles, just so you could get it.

6. If people ask to friend you on Fitbit, you ask them their daily average of steps, and only accept their friendship if you think you will beat them. (I'm looking at you, Matt Cutts)

7. You don't talk about how far things are in the number of miles or kilometers, but instead in steps.

8. You consider getting one of those fancy walking treadmill desks.

9. You find yourself wanting to look at how many flights of stairs you've climbed in the middle of the flight, and you have to restrain yourself until you get to the top, just so you make sure it counts.

Good luck Matt! Hope you reach 10,000 by midnight!

10. You find yourself just a few steps away from your usual goal, consider if you can hit that number before the clock hits midnight, and then go do some laps in the kitchen.

11. While on a walk with a friend who also has the Fitbit, you look at each other's starting step count, and ending step count, compare it to yours and wonder aloud as to whether Fitbit is accurate, if your units are calibrated correctly, or if it's something to do with the other person's height and stride. (My mom and I actually did this on Monday)

12. You memorize your daily weigh-ins and body fat percentages from each morning's weigh-in, and can correctly anticipate both the next day to the tenth of a pound or percentage point.

13. You actively contemplate whether it makes sense to adjust your Fitbit goals to match your real world activity, or adjust your real world activity to match your Fitbit goals.

14. When you type F into your browser's URL bar, it autocompletes Fitbit instead of Facebook.

15. Every time you take a step while not wearing the Fitbit, you're annoyed.

Are you as silly about Fitbit as I am? I am loading up on people to connect with on that service. Find me at and we'll compare steps.

May 29, 2012

Fast, Sleek New Chromebooks Bring OS Worthy Hardware

The new Chromebook and a Chromebox to boot.

At the end of 2010, I got my first exposure to a fully cloud-based operating system, when I was an early recipient of Google's CR-48 pilot program. Those of us getting the early gear were guided to be kind to the admittedly clunky hardware, and instead focus on the operating system, which changed the way we thought about local storage. But in addition to the unique OS, which started and ended with the web browser, the machine was intriguing for its long battery life and pervasive wireless capabilities, including 3G connectivity. The second generation hardware, which I obtained from attending Google IO last summer, started where the first gen left off, syncing quickly from my Google account, and bumping up its speed, while maintaining great battery life and wireless.

But in both cases, the devices were my backup devices, secondary to my primary machine, a MacBook Air. Be it specific software, inertia or simple speed and aesthetics, I still found myself using the Apple laptop the majority of the time - except when I was away from home or the office, as the Chromebook has from day one been best for mobile computing. The newest devices, being introduced today, have flipped that argument on its head. I've been using the new Chromebook for the last few days, and the only time I ever got my Macbook out was to sync my Fitbit tracker with its desktop cradle.

Google introduces the new Chromebooks

The new Chromebooks are incredibly sleek, light and fast to boot. That may be hard to substantiate, especially if you assume my pro-Google filter is in effect, so I tested on the WebGL fishtank demo, getting 60 fps at 1,000 fish, lowering to the high 40s if I made that its separate window and kept working on something else, be it Gmail, playing a YouTube video, accessing my docs on Google Drive, or browsing the web.

I've been thinking about and working toward a cloud-centric lifestyle for years now, and since joining Google last August, I spend practically all my waking connected hours in Chrome. I have Chrome on my Android phone, on my TVs with the Google TV, on my Mac laptops and, obviously, at the heart of the Chromebook.    The benefits of having access to all my bookmarks, user profiles and content from device to device cannot be overstated, and the newest laptop no longer makes me feel like I am compromising anything in exchange. The hardware is thin, the keyboard and trackpad are top quality, and its weight is light enough that if it were held next to the latest model Macbook Air, any difference is scarcely noticeable. This is no longer just a evolutionary OS story, but one that has hardware worthy of it.

Disclosures (Per Usual): Yes, I work for Google. I have been testing this new unit free of charge. I also previously received the CR-48 and second generation Chromebooks free of charge prior to joining Google, so life is pretty good. :)

May 18, 2012

Web Data Caps Not Prepared for Pervasive Connectedness

Comcast (Xfinity) made headlines yesterday with its discontinuation of a standard 250 gigabytes a month cap for its residential users, in favor of a new format, which starts at 300 gigabytes a month, with the option to buy more. As a residential customer, I had noticed they stopped tracking our net usage in April, as after continuous growth in our home's Web traffic, the number shockingly (and incorrectly) displayed it was stalled at 56 Gigabytes, following a 162 GB month in March, up about 20 percent from February, and in turn up nearly 40 percent from January.

The main rise in our home for data consumption is two-fold, with my kids' adoption of Netflix and YouTube on our various tablets, and our own use of Google+ hangouts for live video interactions with others on the social network, including extended family and remote friends. As I watched our monthly data consumption increase, it looked like we would be on track to hit Comcast's data cap of 250 Gigabytes somewhere in the second half of the year, barring changes in our behavior or an eventual topping out - and that doesn't include the various megabytes taken down over 3G and 4G from our Android phones and Chromebooks.

Typically, limits imposed on users are indicative of one of two matters - the first being a lack of robustness in the system, which has proven incapable of supporting a change in customer usage, and the second being bad actors within the system, who for whatever reason, consume a dramatically greater amount than the average customer. It's easy to point at illicit file sharing, pornography or piracy as the reason for these caps, but with increased use of cloud computing, high quality video consumption and web communication, including VoIP and video chat, what used to be the exception is threatening to become the new normal. The wonder is if the infrastructure can adapt to consumer needs, or if even more disruption is needed.

The face to face to face video chats of today and near instantaneous downloads of feature films that we take for granted, even in HD, seemed improbable five years ago and impossible 15 years ago. One has to wonder what could be made possible in the next five to 15 years going forward, with advancements in software codecs, fibre outlay and wireless standards. My kids are growing up in a world when they expect any TV show to be accessible on any device whenever they want it, and it's unlikely they'll ever understand the sounds of a dial-up modem, let alone references to floppy disks, analog address books and rotary phones.

Traditional infrastructure providers like Comcast and others who find themselves making incremental changes in a world that seems ripe for significant change and disruption make me feel like they are solving for today's problems without preparing for big changes that are on the way. Even their newest proposal, to start allocations only 20% ahead of previous limits, with warnings to those who hit these new limits, seem short-sighted. The answer, for me, is to prepare for a world with 10 times the bandwidth we have now, when not only every show ever is available to any device at any time, but possibly anything at any quality, anywhere.

If my kids and I, in our casual use, can start to bump up against caps designed to slow down illegal use, just imagine the damage we could do to these artificial caps with a more round the clock schedule and even more devices. Even my thermostat and my scale are connected to the web now. It's time we stopped playing with small percentages and started getting ready for a real Internet of things, or... scratch that... an Internet of every thing.

Disclosures: I work at Google, which is working on Google Fiber in Kansas City, and provides products like Google+ hangouts, YouTube, Android, and Chromebooks, and could be considered a competitor or partner to Comcast and Netlfix.