Fitbit Finally Introduces Its New ‘Ionic’ Smartwatch
Fitbit unveiled its first smartwatch on Monday, a $300 lightweight wearable called Ionic. The aluminum watch, which will come in three colors and with a variety of bands, is available for preorder immediately and hits stores in October.
The company needs Ionic to be a big hit this holiday shopping season after sales of Fitbit’s simpler line of fitness trackers tanked last year. The former leader in the wearable market appears to be getting squeezed between more expensive devices from Apple (AAPL) and cheaper wearable gadgets from Asian makers like Xiaomi and Huawei. Fitbit’s stock price, which closed at $5.73 on Friday, is down 61% over the past year.
The smartwatch is CEO James Park’s effort to hit back at the competition by offering a far more capable device than anything Fitbit (FIT) has previously released. The Ionic can run third-party apps, make wireless digital payments, and track relative blood oxygen levels in addition to typical heart rate monitoring. The company says the watch can run for at least four days on one charge in typical usage, much longer than most competing smartwatches, which have to be charged every night. And though the Ionic looks somewhat like Fitbit’s Blaze with its square shaped display, it has a more substantial and expensive appearance with an aluminum body and extremely bright color display.
But despite all the new features, the emphasis is still decidedly on health and fitness, CEO James Park tells Fortune. “We believe success in this category requires a killer app and we feel health and fitness is that killer app,” Park says. “Fortunately, that coincides with the core strength of the company. The purpose of this watch is that it’s going to be the best health and fitness smartwatch on the market.”
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The Ionic includes a broader array of health tracking sensors, so it can go beyond simple heart rate tracking. The watch will be able to measure relative levels of oxygen in the blood, so it will be able to detect more kinds of health conditions in users, such as–in a feature coming down the road–sleep apnea.
Fitbit bought the assets of failed smartwatch pioneer Pebble last year as part of an effort to jumpstart its own smartwatch effort. The Ionic will run apps developed by third parties using a software toolkit similar to Pebble’s, but the kit won’t be released until next month, delaying the availability of new apps.
At launch in October, the device will come with a music app compatible with Pandora (P), a Starbucks (SBUX) purchasing app, a Strava workout app, and a weather app powered by Accuweather. Other software like a Nest app, Flipboard app, and a golf app are promised for the fall.
There’s no guarantee that Ionic will succeed even if many developers flock to the platform. Apple has attracted thousands of watch apps, but sales have not met analysts’ early optimistic projections. Apple is expected to revamp its smartwatch, the Apple Watch, next month with a third-generation model, which will be able to connect directly to cellular networks on its own.
Fitbit also announced a set of wireless headphones, called the Fitbit Flyer, which can connect to the watch (or other devices) via Bluetooth. The $130 headphones will be available for preorder immediately and also arrive in stores in October.