Fitbit launches its first smartwatch that can beat Apple and Google

Fitbit has launched a fitness-oriented smartwatch with built-in GPS, music player, and contactless payments system, so you don't need to carry a smartphone when you go for a run or a swim. You can also write your own apps in JS/CSS/SVG.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor
Ionic smartwatches

Product line up of all the Ionic smartwatches. The strap looks like a standard Fitibt band, which works, but there are are smarter-looking alternatives, and they are very easy to change. (Image: Fitbit)

Fitbit, which has dominated the fitness band market for the past decade, is finally entering the smartwatch market with a $299/£299 Fitbit Ionic. Features include built-in GPS and NFC, improved heart-rate tracking, water resistance (up to 50 meters), and a music player, so you don't have to carry a smartphone to make your smartwatch useful.

However, the Ionic's unique selling point is its superior heart rate reader, which includes a "relative SpO2 sensor" that can estimate and track the amount of oxygen in your blood.

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The Ionic is also part of a system that includes Bluetooth-connected Fitbit Flyer earbuds, the Fitbit Coach personal trainer app, Fitbit Pay, Wi-Fi-connected Aria 2 Smart Scales, and Fitbit Studio. This web-based SDK (software development kit) enables anyone to create apps -- or at least create their own watch faces -- using JavaScript, CSS and SVG. Apps can be shared privately or submitted to Fitbit for addition to its App Gallery. Fitbit says it expects apps such as Flipboard, Game Golf, Nest, and Surfline to appear this autumn.

Ionic watch face

The default Ionic watch face shows the time plus steps, heart rate and calories burned. When the circle is complete, for example, you have completed your target number of steps. If you want a different display, you can download one or create your own.

Image: Fitbit

The App Gallery includes Strava guided training, AccuWeather's weather app, Starbucks, and Pandora.

The operating system appears to be Fitbit's, but Fitbit claims "cross-platform compatibility." Its press release says: "Develop one app and reach Fitbit's large, global community of users across Android, iOS and Windows platforms."

Fitbit Coach is an enhanced version of FitStar, which provided guided workouts and health routines to people using the earlier not-quite-a-smartwatch Fitbit Blaze. It requires a £7.99 a month subscription.

As ZDNet's Larry Dignan points out, "Fitbit Coach is a first step toward becoming more data, services and enterprise based." (Fitbit tips data, services strategy with coaching, health program app)

Fitbit estimates the battery life as "4+ days". I'm currently getting "5+ days" from my Fitbit Charge 2.

The Fitbit Ionic may be a smartwatch but it's clearly designed as a fitness device, which should make it an attractive upgrade to millions of Fitbit fitness band wearers. And while it may currently be weaker than Apple and Google in terms of smartwatch apps, the fact is that smartwatch apps are not particularly useful at the moment. Nobody wants or needs hundreds of smartphone-style apps on their smartwatch, so their absence is irrelevant. Fitbit just needs to cover the basics, and they're built in with the Fitbit Pay wallet, notifications, automatic sleep-tracking, automatic swim-tracking, and automatic GPS-based run-tracking.

The Fitbit Ionic (£299.99; $299), Fitbit Flyer earbuds (£109.99; $129), Aria 2 smart scales ($129.95), and various accessory bands are now available for pre-order in Fitbit's online stores. Ionic smartwatches will reach 55,000 retail stores in 65 countries in October. Fitbit Studio, the web-based developer environment, will be available in September.

An Adidas "special edition" version of the Fitbit Ionic and Adidas training programs will be launched next year.


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