Fitbit Unveils Ionic, Joins Smartwatch Competition

Christian Cutler August 29, 2017
Fitbit Unveils Ionic, Joins Smartwatch Competition

After giving its rivals a year-long head start, wearable device maker Fitbit Inc. finally decided to catch up, and is currently elbowing its way into the smartwatch market competition, removing the veil on its first bona fide smartwatch.

The Fitbit Ionic, which buyers can score at $299.95, is expected to start grinding gears with competitors, such as Apple Inc., with a truckload of features ranging from fitness tracking to contactless payment. The device marks several spots of differences from its Fitbit-made predecessors, such as the Fitbit Blaze, by boasting its support of third-party applications.

Fitbit CEO James Park keeps all positive attitudes towards the Ionic, expecting it to be the company’s ticket to bigger competition. Park tagged the Ionic as “a big part of our growth history,” as it marries medical-grade features with the company’s mass market pull, and he expects that this combination would help their brand position itself better in the market.

Ionic is to hit stores in October, which is a month later than Apple’s launch of three iPhones and a smartwatch in September.

Features and Specs

The Ionic offers numerous features, which may or may not have been offered before by smartwatches already ahead in the race.

Fitbit’s first true smartwatch features a colored spherical glass touch screen, with a lightweight casing made of aluminum. The bezels are relatively large. The casing also has antennae lines for GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

For the case’s back, the shape has been angled and tapered to comfortably fit contact between the wrist and the device. Buttons are found on either sides of the device, where there are two to the right, and one to the left.

The colors are said to be “space themed,” and come in silver, grey, and orange.

The Ionic introduces another health-angled addition, the “Fitness Coach,” which guides users through workouts with the exhibition of images, animations, and timers on the watch, partnered with audio instructions and prompts. The wearer can also rate the exercise’s difficulty, which will help the Fitness Coach recalibrate future sessions accordingly.

It is also water resistant up to 50 meters, which ties it up with the Apple Watch. As a result, it also means that wearers can dive underwater and do further water training with the ‘swim mode’ that can detect burned calories and elapsed time. It has also retained features that previous Fitbit watches have offered before, such as monitoring the users’ sleep stages.

Moreover, the Ionic offers 2.5 GB of internal music storage, which means you can hoard around 300 songs in it. This is an important feature for Pandora, which is one of the companies that Fitbit has partnered with to acquire pre-loaded application onto the watch.

One of the biggest selling points that Fitbit prides the watch with is its battery life, which is claimed to last for four days on a single charge; a length which is comparatively more impressive than Apple Watch’s 18 hours.

The Ionic runs a new operating system, called Fitbit OS. The company marked Fitbit OS as the core of its present and future endeavors in the smartwatch business. The software offers support to third-party applications.

Fitbit’s December acquisition of the now-defunct smartwatch manufacturing startup Pebble has been the primary catalyst in the development of the operating system.

“The ability for third party developers in the medical community to write apps was incredibly powerful,” Park said. He also emphasized that the acquisition of Pebble just to unlock third party support features was “incredibly important.”

Since Ionic will support applications, Fitbit App Gallery has also been created. It is where the apps would live, and it will be available at launch for select applications. Users are also provided with a couple of ways to put applications and watchfaces to the Ionic. Wearers can download directly from private links, while others can share apps from the App Gallery after undergoing certain reviews.

Lastly, along with the numerous fitness and health related features, the Ionic also has an enhanced heart rate reader that possesses SpO2 sensor, which is capable of monitoring the amount of oxygen in the wearer’s blood over time. The company looks forward to the eventual progress of this technology that they hope will allow it to detect conditions, such as sleep apnea, in the wearer’s body.

Plunge and Recovery

Last year, Fitbit experienced a deep plunge in business because of the fierce competition. Sluggish company performance led to some workers losing their jobs. Also, the aforementioned plunge was equivalent to a 60% decline in Fitbit’s stocks. The company currently trades 70% below the IPO price.

The success of the Ionic would be crucial for Fitbit.

According to analysts, the Ionic’s fate would depend on Fitbit’s capabilities to leverage its expertise in health and fitness. Ramon Llaman, who is the research manager of wearables and mobile phones at research firm International Data Corp, described Fitbit as “playing to their wheelhouse,” indicating that a survey showed that consumers perceived health and fitness applications as the most desirable feature in smartwatches.

However, it is agreed that the wearable device maker is already late in the smartwatch race, and its biggest rivals have been far ahead, so expectations are set high. Park maintains an upbeat stance and confidence in his product, saying that Fitbit is the “best positioned company to have the most profound impact on people’s health outside of the healthcare system.”


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Christian Cutler
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