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How Fitbit Is Trying To Reboot Its Smartwatch Effort To Appeal More To Women

March 13, 2018, 1:00 PM UTC

After tepid sales of its first smartwatch, Fitbit has a new model for the Spring with a lower price and a more appealing look.

The new $200 Fitbit Versa looks a lot more like an Apple Watch, with a brighter, curvier design than the chunky, science fiction inspired $300 Ionic model released last year. The smaller Versa arrives in April and should fit women’s wrists better. Available for preorder starting on Tuesday, it also comes in a broader range of color combinations, including a more feminine rose gold model with a light peach strap. The massive Ionic model only looked good on people with big wrists and came in mostly masculine color schemes. Some reviewers called it flat out ugly.

“Looking forward, we’re going to continue to evolve,” CEO James Park said on Monday at a presentation for reporters. “We do strongly feel that there’s significant opportunity for us to gain more share through the launch of more mass appeal devices in the category…most importantly all at the right price point.”

The move to revamp its smartwatch push comes after a difficult holiday shopping season for Fitbit’s entire line of watches and trackers. Ionic was supposed to offset falling sales of simpler fitness trackers, but it was too niche. Fitbit sold only 5.4 million total devices in the fourth quarter, down from 6.5 million a year earlier and 8.2 million sold back in 2015. Ionic failed to meet “aggressive goals” that the company had set, CEO Park has admitted. Total sales in the 2017 quarter declined 1% to $571 million and fell short of the $588 million that analysts had expected.

Fitbit’s stock hit an all-time low of $4.67 after the fourth quarter report, though it has since bounced back a bit to close at $5.31 on Monday. Still, that represents a loss of almost three-quarters since Fitbit (FIT) went public in 2015.

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With the new Versa, to reach the lower price point Fitbit dumped a few features, most significantly onboard GPS tracking. The basic version of the Versa also forgoes the ability to make mobile payments, though a $230 special edition gets the Fitbit Pay feature back. With the smaller design, the Versa is the lightest weight smartwatch made of metal currently on the market, Fitbit says.

Aiding the Versa’s appeal to women shoppers, Fitbit also added a women’s health app to its smartwatch software that includes a period tracker. The company even included Boston University medical school professor Katherine White in its press briefing on Monday to explain some of the science behind the new app.

Fitbit's revamped smartwatch software includes a female health app to track periods.
Fitbit’s revamped smartwatch software includes a female health app to track periods.
Courtesy of Fitbit

The revamped version 2.0 of the software also gained hundreds of new apps and clock faces that weren’t available when the Ionic debuted, including programs from United Airlines (UAL), Yelp (YELP), and Google’s (GOOGL) Nest. The software also gained the ability to let users respond to messages right from the watch with canned replies, though the feature only works for users with Android phones, not Apple (AAPL) iPhones. “We haven’t forgotten about iOS users, we’re working on it,” Melanie Chase, vice president of product marketing, told reporters.

In addition to that limitation on iPhone users, the Versa and the revamped Fitbit software won’t fix all of the problems that held the Ionic back. After missing out on the most popular music services, including Apple Music and Spotify, by only offering a Pandora (P) app on its watch last year, Fitbit is adding only one new music app from Deezer, a service mainly popular in Europe, for now. The watches still don’t connect directly to cellular networks either, the flagship new feature on the latest version of the Apple Watch.

Fitbit’s line of new products for Spring also includes a fitness tracker for kids called the Fitbit Ace, based in Fitbit’s thin, plastic Alta model. And there is a special $330 version of the Ionic made in partnership with Adidas that includes special exercise tracking features from the sneaker maker.