Fitbit aims to take a piece out of Apple with new smartwatch

Tuesday, 29 August 2017, 10:35:49 AM. Fitbit Inc. unveiled its long-awaited smartwatch on Monday, elbowing into a crowded market to restart its growth.

By Yoree Koh, Dow Jones Newswires

Fitbit Inc. unveiled its long-awaited smartwatch on Monday, elbowing into a crowded market to restart its growth.

Fitbit’s smartwatch, called the Ionic, priced at $299.95, will compete with incumbents such as Apple Inc.’s Apple Watch, which starts at $269. And while Fitbit is touting the health and fitness features on its device, building on its expertise in fitness trackers, the Ionic lacks some of the technological capabilities of an expected revamp of Apple Watch.

The smartwatch is going to “be a big part of our growth story,” said Fitbit CEO James Park. He added that the device’s ability to marry medical-grade capabilities with the company’s mass-market appeal will help position it as an essential product.

The Ionic is scheduled to hit stores in October ahead of the critical holiday season. Apple has scheduled its product launch event for Sept. 12, when it is expected to debut three iPhones and a smartwatch.

The Ionic’s fate is pivotal to Fitbit, which last year suffered a lackluster holiday season, driving it to post its first quarterly loss since going public. Sluggish sales led to layoffs.

Analysts say the watch’s success will hinge on whether Fitbit can leverage its expertise in health and fitness. Fitbit is “playing to their wheelhouse,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager of wearables and mobile phones at International Data Corp., a research firm. Consumers said that health and fitness apps were the most desirable feature in their smartwatches, according to a survey conducted by IDC late last year.

But competitors such as Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. have released watches with a variety of features, and “not everybody wants or is using those features,” Llamas said.

Last year, Fitbit released its unofficial foray into smartwatches, the Blaze, which retails for about $150, but it is not connected to third-party apps. Last December, Fitbit bought the intellectual property and hired some employees from smartwatch startup Pebble Technology Corp. when it shut down. That helped hasten Fitbit’s smartwatch product development and work involving third-party apps.

Ionic users will be able to wear the watch during swims, load it with music if they have a Pandora account, use it to pay for an energy drink after a run and track distance and location with GPS. The features go beyond the boilerplate found on Fitbit’s other devices, such as step count, heart-rate monitoring, and sleep tracking, Fitbit said. The watch will have a battery life of up to four days on a single charge during typical day-to-day use.

But the Ionic won’t be LTE enabled, Fitbit said. The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple’s next watch, slated for release this fall, will be capable of connecting to cellular networks, allowing users to send and receive texts without being tethered to the iPhone.

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