As the fitness tracker market matures, it’s gotten easier to differentiate which wearable you should get depending on your lifestyle and needs. If you want to ski the backcountry or run a faster marathon, you get a Garmin or a Suunto; if you own an iPhone, an Apple Watch. If you’re on a budget, you should probably get a Fitbit.
With its latest round of offerings, Fitbit is attempting to upend that customer calculation. Today, Fitbit is launching Fitbit Premium, a paid subscription service that analyzes the huge amount of data collected from its 27 million active users to dispense daily, personalized recommendations meant to optimize each user’s activity, sleep, and fitness.
Fitbit is also debuting the Versa 2, an updated version of the company’s hugely popular smartwatch, and the Aria Air, an affordable smart scale. Fitbit has peppered both devices and the app with collaborations, from its existing partnerships with Spotify and Solera Health to newer ones with such varied entities as the meditation app Headspace and rescue beacon manufacturer Recco. Eventually, you may find yourself using a Fitbit just because it seems inconvenient not to.
Hole in One
In September, both old and new Fitbit users will be offered a limited free trial of Fitbit Premium. The new subscription service dispenses health advice via nine guided programs, including ways to understand your caloric intake, a program to eliminate salt from your diet, and a program to promote healthy sleep habits. Fitbit Premium will be available as both a $10 monthly subscription and as an $80 annual subscription.
While many fitness trackers already offer generalized advice gleaned from third-party organizations and university studies, Fitbit Premium will layer those recommendations with personalized data.
For example, a Fitbit Premium subscriber might become discouraged that they’re not making any headway on their weight-loss efforts. However, their premium updates might show that their resting heart rate dropped two beats below their previous monthly average, which is a significant improvement that won’t show up on a scale.
In addition to personalized recommendations and fitness challenges, Fitbit Premium will also give users the option to access a certified health and wellness coach. This coach will have access to the user’s granular health data and, in addition to making personalized recommendations, will also be able to help manage conditions like hypertension and diabetes.
Finally, Fitbit Premium subscribers will also be able to distill accumulated data in one easy-to-read, printable report that will be developed in conjunction with medical professionals. Rather than relying on their faulty memory during meetings with doctors or nutritionists, subscribers can hand their doctor a piece of paper with a summary of relevant data, like activity graphs or weight loss trends.
Fitbit has long partnered with some of the biggest healthcare insurers in the country, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, to provide users with activity trackers at a discount. That prospect is made more attractive with affordable devices, like Fitbit’s popular Versa wearable.
Earlier this year, Fitbit stripped the Versa Lite of its extraneous features, like the altimeter, in order to lower the price tag. This fall’s Versa 2 is a return to the higher price range ($200) but it also promises a more premium experience. For the first time, the Versa 2 won’t have a neatly inscribed “fitbit” on the bezel. It will also have a brighter AMOLED display, an onboard microphone, and a variety of subdued, tasteful finishes and woven straps.
Sleep Score—a feature I beta-tested which tracks factors like your restlessness and time spent awake to give you a single metric that tells you if you slept well or not—will be available to all Fitbit users who have a heart-rate tracking device. The app will also include other sleep features, like smart wake, which will awaken you while you are in light or REM sleep versus deep sleep, making for an easier start to your day.
The Versa 2 will also be Alexa-enabled; you can also use voice-to-text, if you have an Android phone. I’m especially excited to see an optional always-on mode, so that you won’t have to constantly shake or tap the device to wake it up while you’re running or discreetly checking the time during a meeting.
And Fitbit’s latest smart scale, the Aria Air, is Bluetooth-enabled, will wirelessly sync with the Fitbit app, and will be provided for free to members by health management company Solera Health. Most importantly, at $50, it will be one of the more affordable smart scales on the market, and much cheaper than Fitbit’s previous one, the $130 Aria 2.
While Fitbit claims its focus is on comprehensive and accessible health care, its partnerships extend way beyond those with doctors and insurance providers. On your new Versa 2, you can also access your Spotify Premium account and use Fitbit Pay to pay your fare on a Staten Island bus. You can accessorize your wearable with a band designed by Kim Shui, who worked with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. You can swap in a band from Recco Technology, which makes avalanche and rescue beacons for when your backcountry adventure takes a turn.
It’s easy to see these myriad partnerships, and the downward slide of its device pricing, as frantic flailing from a company that has struggled with falling sales in the past few years. It’s also hard to ignore that Fitbit seems to be hitching all its hopes to a wagon that bears a marked resemblance to its closest competitor, the Apple Watch.
But truthfully, I enjoyed testing the last two versions of the Versa and am looking forward to this one. Rather than building its own exclusive walled garden, Fitbit is keeping its products affordable and reaching out to the apps, designers and doctors that you, the potential user, already love. As the millions of Fitbit users can attest, maybe the most important piece of fitness equipment is other people.
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