Fitbit finally launches a smartwatch in bid to reclaim wearables crown

Long-time wearables king Fitbit has belatedly got into the smartwatch game in a bid to fight back against Apple and Xiaomi.

As you would expect, the Fitbit Ionic comes at the smartwatch category with a distinctly health-and-fitness bias. A prominent feature is an SpO2 (peripheral oxygen saturation) sensor, which can apparently tell how much oxygen there is in your blood. This seems to be the sort of thing health/fitness fanatics like to obsess over so it’s likely to be a crowd-pleaser.

First and foremost Fitbit needs to make sure that side of things is beyond reproach and hopefully better than anything other smartphone vendors have to offer. But for this move into smartwatches to be a success Fitbit needs to ensure it’s at least adequate when it comes to other presumed benefits of such a device, such as smartphone syncing and contactless payments.

The Ionic runs on Fitbit’s own OS, presumably derived largely from the Pebble acquisition. Apparently it can receive smartphone notifications, but doesn’t really offer much in the way of further interaction. It does support contactless payments, but via Fitbit’s own pay service. Other USPs include longer than average battery life and an Adidas-branded special edition.

“With Ionic, we will deliver what consumers have not yet seen in a smartwatch – a health and fitness first platform that combines the power of personalization and deeper insights with our most advanced technology to date, unlocking opportunities for unprecedented health tracking capabilities in the future,” said James Park, co-founder and CEO of Fitbit.

Even if we take all that hyperbole at face value the Ionic faces the same challenge as the rest of the smartwatch category: providing sufficient utility to justify the price. At a price point of $300 it doesn’t significantly undercut its competitors and it lacks the reassurance of being aligned to a major mobile platform. Right now it’s not obvious why consumers should either pay the premium (basic Fitbit bands start at $20) or risk moving to an unknown platform.

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