AMITIAE - Monday 12 January 2015
Carrot - iOS app for Monitoring Calorie Intake: Integrates with Apple's Health App
By Graham K. Rogers
I was able to add two items to the Dashboard that took input directly from the iPhone itself: Walking + Running Distance, and Steps. The latter is less useful for me and may be best used by those who actually do stepping exercises; but the walking input has allowed me to see at a glance how far I am walking on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. There is not much for the Annual readout, but it is beginning to make sense in that section. I am more conscious not only of when I am walking, but becoming more aware of when I am not.
With this minor use of the Health app, it is clear that more direct input would help me check what I am up to, and a clear area that I need to pay attention to is diet. With chocolate and cakes as highly desirable items, I know I have to cut down.
As with many apps, the cartoon-style interface needs the user to enter certain details, so that the right settings are available: in this case, calories intake. The main data points needed are Age, Height and Weight. The app then displays an optimum calorie intake.
The voice that guides the user I found to be humorous and vaguely insulting: for example, the user is referred to as a "meatbag" - correct, but unusual - and when I entered my birthdate I was referred to as "wheelchairing dead", which my students (for one example) might disagree with. When I entered height and weight, I was described as "obese". I checked the dictionary: "grossly fat or overweight." Overweight, certainly (which is why I downloaded the app) but grossly? . . .
I was also asked while entering the data to confirm if I was telling the truth or lying. I thought this was smart as some may be economical with the truth, shaving a kilogram or two, adding a couple of centimetres. My conscience was clear.
I needed to decide on what my level of activity was: from Sedentary to Extremely active. Along with the other comments that had accompanied each selection, there was a quite useful spoken definition of each level. I thought of selecting Active, but the voice input changed my mind to "Kinda Active."
The voices - sometimes male, sometimes female - are heard often: when entering data, when accessing menus and at other times. There is always a slight edge, pushing the user: encouraging, cajoling. Some may find this tedious, but for me it had just the right level of impudence to spur.
I was unable to test the option of the barcode input. I suspect that this again is a regional problem. I tried a cup of cherry yoghurt from an international producer (Danone) and a Kit-Kat - the chocolate one. Neither was found in the database so I resorted to the manual entry, which was part guesswork.
Being just after New Year, the office has a generous collection of products, including several from the UK. The barcodes were scanned, but none of these was recognised by the app database.
Later at home, I tried with various international products that happened to be in the kitchen: Vegemite, Lindt chocolate, Kraft mayonaise, Branston pickle and Fortnum & Mason tea. The app was unable to recognise any of these in its database.
Among the settings was the link to the Apple Health app and I turned on access then specified three areas I wanted to monitor: Active Calories, Dietary Cholesterol and Sugar. Although a small level of Dietary cholesterol was shown in the panel (so the apps were communicating), this did not appear in the Dashboard at the earliest stage. However, Sugar did show a data entry. I presume that as time (and eating) goes on, more information will appear on the dashboard displays, as they do with Steps and Distance.
It is those of us who are sedentary, office-bound, gluttonous and with low levels of exercise who would benefit more from displays of our idleness, but who are less likely to take the time to sit down and work out the calorie value of a stick of broccolli or a crême brulée. Automatic monitoring and fuller access to barcodes would improve the apps - and not just this one.
Carrot (the app and the food) is a good place to start. The app does include reminders, and these need a little time to set up. Even that will be a start. But more automation would help.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.
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