With the Ionic, is Fitbit finally going after the Apple Watch?


Fitbit is officially getting into the smartwatch business. The company has taken the wraps off the Ionic smartwatch. The Ionic will sport a price tag of $299.95 (around Rs19,000), making this a bit more expensive than the Fitbit Blaze fitness watch (Rs19,990; Amazon.in) and at par with the pricing of the Apple Watch Series 1.

However, this is the expected smartwatch announcement from Fitbit, particularly after the expertise gained during the acquisition of one of the first smartwatch makes, Pebble. It is only obvious that comparisons will be made with the Apple Watch, Series 1 and Series 2.

In terms of the hardware, the Fitbit Ionic has an aluminium casing, is 38.6mm in size, has a built-in heart rate sensor, integrated GPS for outdoor fitness tracking and is water resistant up to a depth of 50 metres for tracking your swimming routine. The proverbial cherry on the cake could be the claimed 4-day battery life, which immediately gives it a march over the Apple Watch and even Android Wear-based smartwatches. There are no specifics on the display just yet, but there are expectations that it will be significantly brighter than any fitness tracker Fitbit has made thus far. In a way, you will be able to label this as an upgrade for the Fitbit Blaze, which offered a similar design with straight lines, notifications from the phone to the wrist, music control and also a heart rate sensor apart from GPS.

The Ionic will work with your Android phone and the Apple iPhone, via the free Fitbit app.

The Fitbit Ionic will also have 2.5GB internal storage space, useful for saving your music for the workout soundtracks. Fitbit will also roll out the Fitbit Pay contactless payment solution in the US and Canada for the moment, which will work on the same lines as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

However, where it differs from the Fitbit Blaze is that the Ionic runs a new software, called Fitbit OS. This will support apps, including those made by third-party developers. Developers will have full access to the sensors on the Ionic, including the heart rate sensor and GPS, which will make the apps the watch runs even more useful.

This new app platform could prove to be very useful, as Apple is betting on the Ionic’s fitness tracking capabilities and the health-focus to give it a march over rival smartwatches. At a time when Apple has consistently improved and added new fitness and health tracking features to the Watch’s portfolio of apps, Fitbit was perhaps understanding the threat.

For instance, Fitbit’s PurePulse heart rate sensor has been upgraded, and the company says the sensor now tracks heart rate more accurately for activities such as running and cycling. The Ionic watch also has a new tri-wave sensor which keeps tabs on the relative SpO2 (or oxygen saturation) to monitor oxygen levels in your blood—this could be useful for additional tracking, such as sleep apnea.

Fitbit has also rebranded the Fitstar Personal Trainer app to Fitbit Coach, which will also offer audio coaching sessions and guided health programs, among other personalized and interactive tools, for a subscription fee—you can set difficulty levels, focus on specific workout routines and there is a digital coach too.

The reality is that Fitbit is jumping into the smartwatch space at a time when its rivals have already had a significant headstart. But what the company may have lost in terms of time, it has more than made up for by the expertise it has acquired over years and years of fitness tracking on its extensive range of fitness trackers, and with the specific knowledge of the smartwatch space which Pebble’s acquisition brings to the table.