May 23, 2013

Apps and Gadgets Optimizing More of Your Life Data

It's been just over a year since I started my experiment with Fitbit, tracking not only my every step daily, but also my weight, learning how I measured up against my peers and against myself. The act of tracking my information, and keeping up with my peers, along with an irrational desire to stay atop virtual leaderboards, led me to lose thirty pounds at peak, and with little dramatic effort, I dropped 7 inches in my waist and have had to rebuy clothes more than once.

But Fitbit hasn't been the only data tracking app I've made part of my life, and I'm looking forward to more, for information truly is power, and as you start to quantify and measure that power, you get results.

If Fitbit is about tracking your activity, how much energy you burn, and how far you get with that effort, it's not too much of a stretch to see Nest's smart thermostat as Fitbit for your home. The attractive Nest dial not only is a small conversation piece in our home, but it has simplified our heating and cooling, letting us manage our home via smartphone and the web, all while getting regular reports on how much we've tasked our utilities.

Okay, thirty pounds is enough. I don't need more badges.

I purchased our Nest thermostat in March of last year, and that means we've gotten through a full twelve months, giving us enough data to check usage year over year. Even with the usual caveats of weather variations, kids needing more laundry done due to more activities, or anything else, it's clear we routinely have saved anywhere from $40 to $100 a month in electricity and gas with Nest, which means we broke even on our $299 purchase within six months.

PG&E Agrees We're Saving Energy and Money

That catapults Nest from the "fun gadget" category to the "real benefits" category. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to say that you use less heat when things warm up, like my monthly Nest Energy statement from April reported, but it does take smart science to learn when my family is in the house, and how to cool or heat our home at the right time, so nothing is wasted.

Monthly variations from Nest hit my email, showing use.

Fitbit and the Nest aren't the only devices that urge you to be better with the delivery of data and smart analysis. Today, I got more excited about a new gadget than I've been in some time, when I stumbled upon the promise of, and their early stage smart driving assistant. The assistant, which you can read more about on their site, sucks down information from your driving behavior, sends it to your phone, and helps you learn how you can change your behavior to save money on gas, and generally be a better driver. It even promises to help diagnose mysterious issues that flare up with everyone's car now and again.

Obviously, living and breathing a world like Google, as I do, we're thinking about data and separating good information from bad all the time. But this isn't a story about Google. It's a story about how smart thinking and critical application of the right information can make your life a better one. You don't need ten posts from me that crow about how Fitbit has made me thinner, but it did. You don't need me to tell you I'm one of the cool kids who has Nest, but I did get one, and I'm very glad I did. In months, after my preorder of the Automatic driving assistant comes through, I bet my driving may change in the same way my walking has - and the same way we don't have our air conditioning and heater constantly blaring.

We're in an interesting time in technology, where we're moving from a counting data for data's sake, and posting it without filters, like the first passes with and Foursquare, to a utlity-based model, where the machines and software are getting smarter, teaching us and guiding us to be better. It's really exciting when you think about it - as we move not just from quantitative data, but qualitative data, and present it in such a way that it's not just for the geeks, but for everyone. Bring on more gadgets like this, please.