Monday, 25 May 2015

The Fitness Bracelet, or: Why I Love My iPhone

Not exactly satisfied with a Pebble watch’s fulfilment of her fitness tracking needs, my wife decided to try for a fitness bracelet instead. Since we were on experimentation mode and did not want to spend tons of money, and since we weren’t really blown away with excitement over the Jawbone/Up and Misfit environments as revealed to us through the Pebble, we opted for the Xiaomi option.
You may not have heard of Xiaomi before, but it is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of smartphones. Third largest, according to what I read online, behind companies you might have heard of called Samsung and Apple. The catch with Xiaomi, and the reason it’s relatively anonymous, is that it is focused on selling at its homeland of China. Regardless, my experience with Xiaomi thus far has been very positive: its products, whether power packs or headphones, are cheap but offer high quality. Xiaomi designs are very Apple like (and I’m sure Apple’s lawyers are just waiting for Xiaomi to step out of China before they start their legal attack), and its value for money eclipses everyone else by orders of magnitude.
So we went for the Xiaomi Mi fitness bracelet, available in Australia for $30 (but also easily available for less, even half, if one is patient in one’s bargain hunting). Together with an Android or iOS app, the Mi offers basic step counting (but not other sports), sleep tracking and alert facilities (the bracelet shakes when the smartphone rings or when you set it up as an alarm clock). The bracelet battery requires a special cable but lasts a month between charges, while the bracelet itself is waterproof. If you’re into these things, you can personalise yours with colourful covers. In other words, the functionality offered by the Mi blows away most of the competition regardless of price; what you’re missing out on is heartbeat tracking (only available in the most recent / most expensive bracelets, and often unreliably so) as well as the whole fitness ecosystem, the likes of Jawbone offer, where you can do things like maintain your dietary calendar at the same time or receive health advice as per your gathered inputs.

As I have already discussed in previous posts, and as should be glaringly obvious through reading the previous paragraph, privacy is a big deal with fitness trackers. So we did what we should do and read the privacy policy that comes with the Xiaomi iPhone app (because there’s nothing in the bracelet itself). What we’ve found was very similar to the usual No Privacy policy we got conditioned to accept from your local neighbourhood American company, but with two noteworthy points.
First, Xiaomi’s terms & conditions dictate that one should not use Xiaomi’s facilities to insult the Democratic Republic of China. Clearly, there’s a redundant word in that sentence; think how dreary life would be if such privileges were to be removed from the likes of Twitter.
Second, Xiaomi’s privacy policies included the following. And I quote:
You hereby consent that Mi Talk may analyze your phone contacts to search for your friends who also use Mi Talk. Mi Talk codes your telephone number through highly intensive and irreversible encryption algorithm and retrieve your contacts in this way to match you with existing phone book contacts on Mi Talk. Other users also can find you through Mi Talk if you are on their phone book list.
As well as:
The “Intelligent Phone Number Recognition” Service, where the “Intelligent Phone Number Recognition” Service refers to the service that recognize phone numbers that come from incoming and outgoing calls or text messages. Xiaomi will upload such number to its server, therefore identify the “Marked Information” of such number. Your data and information in this Service will be strictly protected, and we make sure you cannot be identified result from uploading such information. 
To which I would like to note that most of this crap has obviously been taken, word for word, from the Android app. This is because:
  1. Unlike Android, iOS apps cannot have access to call records.
  2. Unlike Android, iOS apps require the user’s explicit approval in order to be able to access the contacts stored on the phone prior to the app's first attempt to access the contacts (as opposed to during the app's installation). Such privileges can be easily revoked later, too.
I know the above can be achieved on Android as well if one bothers to take the right measures. But for me, as a privacy conscientious end user, that difference speaks volumes. Ultimately, it is the reason why I am willing to fork out hundreds of dollars more in order to get myself an iPhone.


Image copyrights: Xiaomi

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