BACTrack is the "quantified self" app for boozers

By Erin Griffith , written on April 24, 2013

From The News Desk

The quantified self movement, with its various data-collecting bracelets and corresponding apps, is meant to help people track their exercise, sleep and eating habits without having to remember to write it all down.

The latest entrant to the field, iPhone breathalyzer BACTrack, does that for people who might not remember what they should write down. This is your quantified drinking self.

$149.99 buys a breathalyzer unit the size of a beeper. Through a corresponding iPhone app, which communicates with the unit via bluetooth, your levels of drunkenness now have an archive.


Retail breathalyzers have been around for ages, and at much lower price points. You can buy a cheapo $15 model at the truck stop or a $50 one at Walgreens. But those aren't terribly accurate and typically break after a handful of blows. BACTrack is expensive, the company says, because it uses fuel cell technology, the technology used by professional-grade police models. The others use semi-conductors. It's not clear what Indiegogo hit Breathometer will use. That product, which I hope to review s well, will cost $20 and is not available until 2014.

I don't have to explain why one would want such a device. Drinking with a breathalyzer is equal parts serious self-awareness and hilarious novelty. Having a record of it on your iPhone is that much more of an incentive. However, when you are drinking with a breathalyzer, the temptation to push its boundaries is just too rich. And when you're in a vodka-soaked haze, each additional drink counts as "research," of course. "For work."

In other words, that third martini last night was a bad idea.

Sometime after midnight, a friend told me about Tucker Max's apparently famous Sushi Pants story, which declares that breathalyzers are "the most destructive invention of the past 50 years" and also "the devil dressed in a transistor." Thankfully my night never escalated to Tucker Max levels of douchery.

In fact, you might say BACTrack helps its users avoid losing their pants as they vomit sushi in a bush somewhere, by arming them with data. Beyond the basic BAC number, BACTrack's iOS app relays the context, and a data trail, of one's imbibing. Benjamin Franklin, tracker of habits and celebrated drinker, would surely approve.

After my first drink, which resulted in a .02 BAC reading, BACTrack told me I was not in a position to drive (the legal limit in most states is .08, but many have "zero tolerance" rules making any impairment above .02 illegal). At .039, I was informed that my reasoning and memory were likely impaired. My inhibitions also may have been lowering, BACTrack said. At peak drunkenness, .162, I was told, simply, "You are visibly intoxicated." Why yes, BACTrack, yes I am. Here, I would have appreciated a more personal touch even. "You are saying some really dumb shit, Erin." Or, "It is time for an Irish Goodbye." Or, "You are likely to leave your tab open."

The app's most beneficial piece of information, though, is the "time to sober" chart. When, over the weekend, I blew a two-drink .039 at 10:30, BACTrack calculated I wouldn't be sober until 1 a.m. And last night -- the martini night -- I was informed I'd be working booze out of my system until 2 p.m. today. True enough, I blew a .02 at 8 a.m. today.

Fortunately, my morning commute is the walk to the living room couch. This information is particularly useful for anyone whose job requires driving or operating machinery and should probably not stay out until 1 a.m. drinking martinis. They should probably also be already aware of this information, but a reminder at the Moment of Bad Decisions always helps.

However, the BACTrack app wasn't perfect. The part I was most excited about -- visualized charts and graphs mapping my drinking habits -- was a bit of a letdown. I was hoping for detailed, beautiful, realtime, interactive visualizations akin to other journal-style apps like Expereal, Foodia or Vizify. Each BACTrack reading can include a photo, notes, and a drink tag, creating a bit of a drinking journal (friends' BAC scores go to a separate section). Given the prevalence of drinking culture in the US, for better or for worse, this app has plenty of social sharing (and shaming) potential, too, with one-click Facebook and Twitter functionality. The notes/photos/drink tags also work for beer nerds, if they aren't already using iHops, Beer Cloud, Beer Universe, Beer Stat, or Pintley or Happy Houred.

But, aside from the breathalyzer itself, the app's the user interface for viewing your drinking history was very difficult (sometimes downright impossible) to navigate. Luckily an app, unlike a piece of hardware, can be improved over time. Here, I'm willing to forgive BACTrack, especially since it got the difficult part -- the readings -- right.