Video: Apple beats Fitbit and Xiaomi to the top wearables spot
Fitbit, it appears, is no longer discounting the fact that wearable customers want the best of both worlds: A fitness band that is capable of tracking everything from sleep to workouts while providing access to an app store, notifications, and other smartwatch-like features.
At a private event on Monday, the wearable company announced two new hardware products and several new software initiatives.
First up is Fitbit Versa, a wearable Fitbit is tagging as a "smartwatch for everyone."
Reminiscent of a watch one would have expected from Pebble (Fitbit acquired Pebble in late 2016), the Versa is the first smartwatch from Fitbit that looks like a modern smartwatch and not a fitness device trying too hard to look like a watch.
The Versa boasts Fitbit's staple feature set: PurePulse heart-rate tracking, four-day battery life, smartphone notifications, auto activity and sleep tracking, waterproofing up to 50 meters, and on-screen workouts. As for GPS, the Versa will require a nearby smartphone to map runs.
Additionally, to add a smartwatch flair to the wearable, the Versa has access to the same selection of apps and clock faces as the Fitbit Ionic.
There are two different versions of the Versa. The core of the Versa lineup includes black, peach, or gray models. Special-edition models are available in charcoal or lavender, and those include the Fitbit Pay wireless payment platform.
As with the Ionic, the Versa will include support for storing music on the watch and connecting to any Bluetooth headphones for playback during a workout.
The Versa is available for preorder starting March 13 and will begin shipping to customers in April. The core Fitbit Versa line will retail for $199 each, while the special-edition models will cost $229 each.
Fitbit OS 2.0
In addition to new hardware, Fitbit is announcing an update to the operating system on its Ionic and Versa watches. Coming this spring, Fitbit OS 2.0 will add the ability to reply to message notifications directly from the watch as well as personalized fitness stats or graphs directly on the watch.
The company said it is working on bringing notification replies to iOS, but it stopped short of saying how or when. Pebble had figured out how to provide some reply functionality for iOS users with various workarounds, so I'd imagine Fitbit is exploring options such as linking the Fitbit app directly to a Gmail account and using it to send replies.
Later this year, Fitbit plans to begin proactively alerting users with personalized recommendations. For example, if a user has a particular day of the week that's historically shown to be a day he or she isn't all that active, the user would receive an alert with encouragement to move more on that specific day.
Another area of focus for Fitbit in 2018 is going to be women's health. More specifically, Fitbit will add tools to the Fitbit app as well as its smartwatch lineup to help women track their menstrual cycle and overall health.
The cycle tracker will monitor days of a cycle, estimate fertile windows, and monitor additional aspects of a woman's reproductive health.
According to Fitbit, cycle tracking has consistently been in the top five requested features by Fitbit users, with an estimated 24 percent of women currently using some sort of app to track their cycle.
The women's health features as well as Fitbit OS 2.0 will be available this spring as a free update.
As someone with kids in elementary school, I often notice a large number of kids in their classes wearing some sort of activity trackers. From what I've gathered, most of the bands are Xiaomi's Mi Band; it's inexpensive and has up to 30 days of battery life.
Fitbit's approach is a bit different from Xiaomi's in that the Fitbit Ace will cost $99 and can go an estimated five days between charges -- and, more importantly, it's a device built specifically for kids ages eight and up.
Fitbit developed a new family feature, where parents can create their child's Fitbit account and control what the child can see within the app, as well as monitor friend requests. The children's version of the Fitbit app will detail active minutes, sleep stats, goals, challenges, and any unlocked badges.
Children can sync the Ace with an iOS or Android device, with caller ID support for those with a phone.
Ace has a lot of the same design characteristics as the Fitbit Alta, just with smaller wrist bands for a better fit. It will be available in blue and purple, and it's available for preorder starting March 13. Fitbit Ace will begin shipping in the second quarter of 2018.
Previous and related coverage
Along with Fitbit's new smartwatch, it is launching an attractive complementary Bluetooth headset to help people enjoy music while exercising with the new Ionic watch.
Fitbit's grand plan to pivot to software, data and services in the healthcare industry makes total sense. The big question is whether it'll have the time to pull it off use its device business to fund a business model pivot.