Will activity-tracking wristbands explode over the next few years? Will activity-tracking wristbands be looked back on as a plastic fad, like some kind of wearable Tamagotchi?
I don’t know. Nobody knows. Not even the electronics companies who make them know right now.
I do know, based on my testing of such products, that the most compelling activity trackers involve good software. So this is a review of activity-tracking software — specifically, a new mobile app called Breeze, made by the makers of RunKeeper.
RunKeeper — in case you’re not familiar with it and the name doesn’t give it away — is a popular app for dedicated runners. I like RunKeeper a lot.
The Breeze app is different. It’s not for serious athletes; it’s aimed at people who just need a little motivation to get moving every day. It runs on Apple iOS devices, but really, it’s meant for iPhone 5s users.
This is because the iPhone 5s has a processor in it that collects data on your motion and activity from the sensors in the phone, all while using minimal battery life. In this way it allows for a more “passive” step-tracking experience.
You might be wondering, why would something be described as “passive” when the whole darn point is to get you to be active?
Well, with most fitness apps, you have to go to open up the app and press Start or Record or some other of button to trigger the activity tracking. Or you have to sync a $150 positive-reinforcement band you’ve been wearing on your wrist.
With a passive-tracking app like Breeze, you don’t have to do anything. You just download the app and it’s always running in the background, tracking things for you.
It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it gives a good estimate of your activity. It’s free and easy to use. If you’re curious about it, own an iPhone 5s, and are looking for a variation on a pedometer or activity-tracking app, there’s almost no opportunity cost in trying Breeze.
But be forewarned, the app sends a lot of notifications. I don’t have a puppy (and who doesn’t want a puppy?) but I imagine that Breeze is the app equivalent of a puppy that always wants to go for a walk, or is unbelievably excited that you just decided to take that quick jaunt outside.
Know there are other passive activity-tracking apps, too. The Nike+ Move app works similarly. And just last week Facebook acquired, for an undisclosed amount, another activity-tracking app called Moves.
I’ve used Moves for several months now, and it has become one of my favorite apps. I literally do nothing with the app except carry my smartphone around with me, and when I wake up in the morning, Moves tells me that, the day before, I walked a mile, cycled a couple more and, on good days, went running, too. Moves also creates a kind of linear diary of where you’ve been throughout the day.
Right now, Breeze doesn’t track bike rides, which I was disappointed by when I started using it. But, like Moves, it does know when and where you’ve walked, and it does acknowledge bursts of activity.
The Breeze app is very simplistic in its design. The main page features a ring with your step count in the center of it. Along the edge of the ring, there’s a little white target that moves as you take more steps throughout the day. Your daily goal, which changes every day, is shown below a gold cup.
At the top of the app are small icons for each day of the week, as well as a Share button for sharing your progress to social networks. I had one minor design gripe about the Breeze app, which is that you can’t go back to view the previous day’s activity by simply swiping through the app.
At the bottom of the app there is also a message box, which is where you can view all of the many, many notes of encouragement that Breeze sends you, to try to keep you motivated and engaged with the app. I received Breeze notifications and reminders at least two to three times a day.
A day after I downloaded Breeze, the app said “Surprise!” and told me my spirit animal was “disciplined fox” (there are nine different spirit animals in the app). When I walked to a coffee shop, Breeze would almost immediately send a notification such as, “Wow! Going the distance, I see! You just took 651 steps!”
When I walked across a park in San Jose, Calif., Breeze said, “Going somewhere? You just completed a 846-step walk!” If I took the garbage out, Breeze was all, “Onward and upward!” If I had gone for a run, I was pretty sure my digital spirit animal’s head would have exploded.
Some health and fitness apps show you regular factoids as a way to keep you motivated. You know, next to a little smiley-face icon in an app, it might say, “If you only walked 735 more steps per day, you might live to be 114.”
Breeze doesn’t do that — yet. Rather than being a white lab coat, it’s more like your workout buddy. Or like that relative on Facebook who comments on every photo you post, with multiple exclamation points, even if you only posted a picture of a flower or a sandwich or something. It’s a little cringe-worthy. But you still appreciate the note.
The Breeze app, like Moves, will also tell you where you were when you went for that walk or run, though it wasn’t always able to pull down my location.
The makers of Breeze say that more features are coming. For example, if you are a RunKeeper user, someday soon you might be able to sync your RunKeeper running data with the data in the Breeze app. The Breeze app might also passively track cycling. And an Android version of the app is in the works.
The company also plans to introduce a setting for users to control the frequency of notifications.
I’m not sure that constant reminders and spirit animals are the stuff that will keep me motivated over the long term. But it’s a fun app, and it wouldn’t hurt to try it.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.