A screenshot of the new Fitbit Sense watch from Fitbit, widely viewed as the company’s most direct … [+] assault yet on Apple Watch.
I’m a former Fitbit owner and current Apple Watch owner, so when I saw Fitbit announce its most direct assault yet on Apple Watch, by far the most successful smartwatch on the market, I had to learn more. So I invited Fitbit’s VP of devices, Larry Yang, onto the TechFirst podcast to tell me more.
About one in five of us in North America wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker now. Most of us are looking to be a bit healthier, to get a nudge here or there to get in the movement or fitness that we need, and to track our progress. In the second quarter of 2020, brands sold $2 billion worth of wearables, with Apple capturing 38% of the market on 9% year-over-year growth. The typical “Other” category with small and no-name manufacturers was second with 28%, and Fitbit tool 19.3% of the market.
The company, which has been sold to Google even though the sale has not been finalized, looks to Fitbit Sense to help lead Fitbit back to growth.
Sales of smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other wearables in Q2 2020, with Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, … [+] and Samsung leading.
“We asked ourselves, well, what would it take to create our most advanced health watch?” Fitbit VP Larry Yang told me. “And so we figured it came down to three areas we had to deliver. The first one is around temperature sensing and temperature health. The second one is around heart health. And the third area is around stress management.”
The Fitbit Sense includes a thermometer which tells you how hot you are. This is likely helpful in terms of workout intensity, but it also provides health and cycle insights. The health one is fairly obvious during Covid-19, and as my wife pointed out, women’s ovulation cycle includes temperature variations.
The heart health component is a bit of a catch-up: Apple Watch has had heart monitoring and ECG (electrocardiogram) support for some time now. But Yang says the Fitbit went above and beyond a simple ECG.
“Pure Pulse 2.0 … uses multiple paths of light sensors, of LED sensors to be able to get a better accurate read, especially as you’re exercising, as the watch moves around on your wrist,” Yang says. “We can get multiple paths going and do better error rejection, and make sure we get our most accurate heart reading. On top of that, we added the ability to alert you if your resting heart rate is abnormally high or abnormally low.”
“We have a new world’s first sensor that measures electrodermal activity,” he told me. “These are like tiny changes in the electrical activity on your skin … if you’re up in front of a big group giving a speech, or you’re about to do something you’ve never done before. That’s your body’s EDA response, if you will, and so our sensor can detect that.”
EDA is electrodermal activity, and it increases if you sweat, which may happen if you’re feeling more stressed. Fitbit Sense senses the increased electrical conductance on your skin, and then helps you manage your mood. It might ask you for a perception of your stress level, for instance, and then might suggest some options to reduce stress.
“We have 6-day battery life,” Yang says. “I tell people the most important feature of a wearable is that it’s worn. And so if you have to take it off every day to charge it, there’s a good chance that you’re gonna forget, you’re gonna leave it at home, it’s not on at night.”
That’s a major difference. I charge my Apple Watch nightly, which means I can’t possibly use it for sleep tracking. My Series 5 gets about 18 hours of battery life, typically … less if I do more workouts than usual and it’s actively gathering data for longer.
While honestly, I don’t think I could sleep with a large and hard wearable on my wrist, some do. And that makes sleep tracking very doable on the Fitbit Sense. You can do sleep tracking on Apple Watch as well — especially with third-party apps — but you’re gonna to need to remember to take your watch off and charge it during the evening.
“When you talked about the wearability, so one of our lead creative designers, he uses the term ‘pajamas for your wrist,’” says Yang. “And so when our industrial design team is thinking about comfort and wearability, that’s kind of the mental model they have, it’s gotta be so comfortable it’s like you’re putting on pajamas.”
At $330, the Sense is $70 cheaper than the Apple Watch 5. You can get older models of Apple Watches for less, but I honestly don’t see much point in getting already-outdated technology unless it’s an absolute necessity.
Finally, Apple Watch works best with an Apple iPhone. That’s not shocking. There are workaround and hacks, but ultimately, using an Apple Watch with an Android phone is painful and kludgy, and the integration is likely to be tenuous, always at risk of failure with a software update on either side.
Ultimately, it’s about your preferences and the platform you choose (iOS or Android). But what Fitbit has done with the Sense looks impressive. We’ll have to see if those impressive looks stand up to testing when the actual watch is available.
I forecast and analyze trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. I’ve been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile
I forecast and analyze trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. I’ve been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile economy. I built the VB Insight research team at VentureBeat and managed teams creating software for partners like Intel and Disney. In addition, I’ve led technical teams, built social sites and mobile apps, and consulted on mobile, social, and IoT. In 2014, I was named to Folio’s top 100 of the media industry’s “most innovative entrepreneurs and market shaker-uppers.” I live in Vancouver, Canada with my family, where I coach baseball and hockey, though not at the same time.
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