Jawbone UP v2.0: Business School Case Study for the Future

Today, the tech community is abuzz with articles about the new Jawbone UP. Strictly speaking, it’s version 2.0 of the device, whose first iteration was made available to the market in November 2011. Jawbone’s handling of the UP from initial failure to reinvention will be studied by future generations of business school students.

I didn’t even know about the UP before it had been pulled from store shelves. It was probably released during one of my self-imposed media blackouts. Jawbone released the UP through two channels: 1) its own website and 2) select retailers. The UP was available for purchase for about a month before Jawbone announced that it was recalling them due to hardware issues that were causing a low mean time between failures.

Jawbone’s CEO, Hosain Rahman, wrote a letter to the UP community that was quickly reposted across the tech blogosphere. In it, he promised a “No Questions Asked Guarantee” for everyone who had purchased UP.

… for whatever reason, or no reason at all, you can receive a full refund for UP. This is true even if you decide to keep your UP band. We are so committed to this product that we’re offering you the option of using it for free.

Source: https://jawbone.com/up/guarantee

That program is still active until December 31st, 2012. You can read about it here (archived link from April 23, 2012).

By the time that I was made aware of the Jawbone UP, the official distribution channels had already been closed down. Jawbone’s UP website displayed a message to prospective buyers that the UP would be coming back soon. I had to go through unofficial channels to purchase mine, where I paid close to $150 for a device that someone else paid $99 to acquire.

My first Jawbone UP lasted for nearly eight months of daily use. One day, late into its life, an LED inexplicably went dead. Shortly thereafter, the band refused to sync with my iPhone. I fired off an email to Jawbone Customer Service. They first came back with instructions on how to reset the Jawbone UP, but quickly escalated the case after I told them that it wasn’t responding to the reset procedure. It took ten (non-working days included) days from my first contact with Jawbone Customer Service to the time that I received my replacement UP.

Jawbone UP and iPhone 5 Incompatible?

I used the replacement Jawbone UP right up until I moved to an iPhone 5. I found that my UP no longer synced with the phone, and some brief Google searches found that there were a number of other UP users who had been similarly left out in the cold. Users on the Jawbone UP community forums reported no success getting the Jawbone UP to sync with the iPhone 5. I recall a response from the forum administrator that read something like, “You’ll need to keep your old iDevice around for now if you want to keep on syncing your Jawbone UP”.

I speculated that the problem wasn’t Jawbone’s alone – it was very possible that Apple had changed something about the iPhone 5 that made its headphone jack different from the iPhone 4S and earlier. I recalled thinking about the other devices on the market that used the iPhone’s headphone jack for data transmission: Square came to mind, but I noticed that their website claimed that the Square Reader was compatible with the iPhone 5. Who broke compatibility?

In any case, my Jawbone UP sat unused for the past month. I kept it plugged in to its USB charger so that it wouldn’t vibrate across the desk every morning. I thought about selling it to some other sucker – I was convinced that the world wouldn’t be seeing another UP for a while longer yet, but competing devices struck me as fairly lame. I looked briefly into the Nike+ Fuel band, but didn’t act on it.

I didn’t follow up on the Jawbone UP any further until today, when I read about its rerelease. As a Jawbone UP user, of course I was going to click through and read more. I poo-poohed the Jawbone UP first-generation users who were lamenting the fact that they would not be receiving free Jawbone UP v2.0 bands. I saw this message in the FAQ for Previous Band Owners and I was happy.

Will 1st Generation band work with iPhone 5?

Yes, as long as you use the same account to login. Your data is stored in your account, rather than a specific version of the app. If needed, you can delete specific events in your feed.

Lo and behold, my Jawbone UP does work with iPhone 5! I won’t have to buy another Jawbone UP band just because there’s been a second generation offering that’s been unveiled.

Activity on the Jawbone UP Community Forums

Then I realized something important. Those users on the Jawbone community forums who are complaining that they’ve been left out in the cold again may be on to something. There have been a plethora of threads whose titles reflect the angst of so many upset first-generation UP owners. Threads whose titles look something like..

Jawbone’s response to these threads will affect the existing UP community’s perception of the brand. At the time of writing, it is not unreasonable to think that the only people who are actively scanning the Jawbone UP community forums are first-generation Jawbone UP users and owners. The Jawbone UP gained a lot of awareness in the media in spite of its short lifetime on the market, so I will not be surprised if the UP gains significant traction now that it has been brought back to the market. It was probably one of the coolest products that you couldn’t buy last Christmas.

Additional Reading for My A+ Students:

http://www.engadget.com/2012/11/13/jawbone-up-2012/
http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/08/jawbone-offers-no-questions-asked-refund-for-troubled-up-band/

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1665351/jawbone-releases-up-a-wristband-for-tracking-your-wellness
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1665491/the-jawbone-up-fails-but-teaches-3-golden-rules-for-experience-design#disqus_thread
http://www.fastcodesign.com/mba/1671243/how-3-million-hours-of-user-testing-fixed-the-jawbone-up#-1

Edits

20161008: Replaced broken link to Jawbone UP refund program with an archived link