Consumer Electronics

Get Off the Couch and Walk, Or Magic Island Will Hate You


Get Off the Couch and Walk, Or Magic Island Will Hate You

Photograph by Tristan Deschamps/Getty Images

Are you trying to lose weight? And also in your late 40s, somewhat technophobic, and an avid FarmVille (ZNGA) player? Why, Dave Wang may have just the social-networked, gameified color touchscreen superpedometer for you. Wang is co-founder and chief executive of Striiv, a five-month-old startup based in Redwood City, Calif. The key-fob-sized Striiv device, which sort of resembles an iPod Nano with rounded edges, has an accelerometer and altimeter inside so—along with measuring the number of steps you take—it also counts the stairs you climb.

Striiv ($99 on Amazon.com (AMZN)) is the latest entrant in a growing set of wearable computers that help you track exercise. For example, FitBit, a similarly priced clip-on device that looks like a small clothespin, does basically the same things and has been around for a few years. The Fitbit synchs with a Mac or PC and has an elegant mobile app. If you’ve ever used a financial-dashboard service such as Mint.com, imagine those charts and graphs, but with exercise instead of money.

The Striiv also synchs with a nice dashboard on the Web, and will—eventually, probably, Wang hints—have a smartphone app. What’s really different about Striiv is that it’s not at all meant for the tech-savvy or even well-organized. “FitBit and the Nike+ FuelBand (NKE) are great, especially if you’re mindful of your own exercise,” says Wang, himself an ebullient ectomorph. “They’re really geared for people who like tracking things with charts and data. But not everyone is motivated that way.”

No, some people are more motivated by cartoon animals and plants. The Striiv comes loaded with MyLand, a FarmVille-esque game in which, instead of spending money to buy your virtual duck a new pond or whatever, you get disposable pseudo-income by earning energy points. If the Striiv detects that you’ve walked a step, that’s one energy point to spend cultivating your digital “enchanted island.” Running yields 5 energy points per step. Stairclimbing: 10 points per. The more you move around, in other words, the more your game world thrives. Don’t walk, and your enchanted island stagnates with tragic unrealized potential.

Before he started Striiv, Wang worked at the San Francisco-based mobile gaming company Booyah, which put him in contact with, as he calls them, “super-awesome badass game designers.” The Booyah gig gave Wang an appreciation of “game mechanics,” a buzzy concept that elicits squeals of delight from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. The term refers to the tactics used in video games—badges, leader boards, little competitions—which are supposedly applicable in real life to getting people to behave in certain ways.

Social games of this sort aren’t terribly complicated. “They’re basically glorified spreadsheets with animation,” says Wang, clearly not intending that as an insult. “But they’re totally addictive. And unlike most electronic games, which encourage you to sit down, this one gets you to stand up.”

There’s more than just the game on Striiv. Soon, using a wireless feature, users will be able compete with family members or friends to see who can walk the farthest or climb the most stairs in a day. (You’ll be able to choose the consequences too—e.g., loser does the dishes.) There’s another setting that transforms steps into donations to an anti-polio organization and other charities; a “walkathon in your pocket,” Wang calls it.

Striiv says it has “tens of thousands” of users, with the average one being a 47-year-old woman with a body mass index of around 30—overweight, but not quite obese. That fairly describes a good portion of the U.S. population (PDF from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control). Wang says he’s had some interest from doctors interested in preventive measures against stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. “All you need to do is walk more to reduce your risk for those diseases,” he says. “There’s a ton of literature on this. Just walk another mile a day, that’s 2,000 steps.”

Aley_190
Aley is an editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow him on twitter @jimaley.

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