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Fitbit Updates Ionic Smartwatch With More Apps

December 5, 2017, 2:00 PM UTC

Fitbit is adding some more high-profile apps to its new Ionic smartwatch to better compete against rival devices from Apple, Samsung, and Garmin.

The first true smartwatch from Fitbit premiered in October, but it included only a handful of third-party apps. Now Fitbit is updating the watch software with several dozen more apps, with new ones now available from well known companies such as Philips, Flipboard, and Yelp (YELP). Coming by year end will be apps from United Airlines, Google’s Nest, the Clue period tracker and TripAdvisor (TRIP), among others, bringing the total available to more than 60, Fitbit says. But the watch still lacks more basic functions like a mapping or messaging app. For users outside of the United States, the watch will also get the Deezer streaming music service app.

Fitbit (FIT) pioneered the market for smart wearable devices like its popular fitness trackers, but sales have fallen sharply over the past year as consumers have gravitated to smartwatches that do more things. Through the end of September this year, Fitbit sold 10 million trackers and watches, down 37% from 2016.

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Now CEO James Park is strongly pursuing upmarket customers with the $300 Ionic. Fitbit’s shares have gained 18% since the day before it debuted the new watch in August, though they are still off about 67% since the company’s initial public offering two years ago. Fitbit hasn’t released sales figures for its new watch, but market tracking firm IDC said it was off to an “encouraging” start in the third quarter.

One early criticism of the Ionic was that it could only run a handful of apps, while thousands of apps were available for Apple’s (AAPL) Apple Watch, Samsung’s Gear line, and the many smartwatch models that run Google’s (GOOGL) Android Wear software. As news site the Verge pointed out its review of the Ionic, the watch has impressive battery life and strong fitness tracking features, but it lacked even basic apps such as messaging, calendar, and maps. “Its biggest flaw is that it is not, in any meaningful way, an interactive smartwatch,” the review noted. The watch does show messaging, calendar and other basic notifications from a linked smartphone.

The initial TripAdvisor app for Fitbit's Ionic smartwatch.
The initial TripAdvisor app for Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch.
Courtesy of Fitbit

The new upgrade also brings 100 new watch faces, adding to the handful of digital-only faces that were included originally. And more bank cards will be usable with the watch’s mobile payments app, too.

Jon Oakes, Fitbit’s vice president of product, said the update was “just the start” of planned future enhancements. More than 5,000 developers have joined Fitbit’s developer program and 1,000 have started to write apps or build clock faces for the Ionic, Fitbit said.

Some of the new apps and clock faces were designed by Fitbit’s Labs unit that uses data from the company’s R&D department to create more compelling features. One new watch app on the way from Fitbit Labs will track tennis swings and offer a shot breakdown to help users improve their game, for example.