FOR Fitbit, Christmas arrived one day late.
The text messages lit up chief business officer Woody Scal’s phone on Boxing Day, and just kept coming.
“I got texted by a lot of people — ‘Go to the App Store!’” he says.
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Fitbit was the number one free app in Apple’s Store, presumably as millions unwrapped one of the company’s fitness trackers on Christmas Day.
It’s part of a seven-year climb for the San Francisco company that counts 10 million monthly active users among its fans, and more than 30 million step-counting, weight-monitoring, and sleep-tracking devices sold by the end of September.
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Scal bullishly boasts the company now has more heart-rate data than any other in the world, and has tracked more nights of sleep “than have ever been tracked in the history of man”.
Yet in spite of its makings as a technology giant, Fitbit is not keen to expand its scope.
In March, the company will deliver a smart fitness band to replace its Charge device, and it will ship an advanced fitness tracker it claims stops short of being a smartwatch.
In fact, Scal is adamant the Fitbit Blaze watch is nothing like an Apple or Samsung smartwatch.
“Some people see this as us trying to create a smartwatch and we’ve been very intentional in calling this a smart fitness watch. It is not a smartwatch,” he says.
“We think a silly strategy is to try and outdo Apple and what they’re doing. We want to do something different. We’ll let other consumer electronics companies crack the general purpose smartwatch.”
While it looks like a smartwatch, the $330 Fitbit Blaze will feature only “curated notifications” — incoming phone calls, text messages, and calendar alerts — while it focuses on delivering heart-rate data and step-counting, automatic exercise tracking, sleep monitoring, and music controls.
It has more in common with smartwatches than the Fitbit Surge did, however, as the Blaze offers a modular hub that can be inserted into different bands, and workout instructions delivered on its screen.
A Fitstar app preloaded on the Blaze can take users through their choice of fitness circuits, from jumping jacks to push-ups.
“We expect to have more features like that in the future,” Scal says. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’d have an app store. We’ve been really careful about what the experience is.”
And Fitbit’s fitness focus may serve more than just its big-stepping customers.
The company’s stock fell nearly 12 per cent following the Blaze’s announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show, with analysts including Baird’s William Power blaming its “potentially greater competition with Apple Watch”.
Fitbit’s other upcoming release, the Alta, is more likely to please investors with its more obvious fitness focus.
The “smart fitness band” features a slimline body, a substantial OLED screen, and a modular body that will fit into a slew of fashionable or fitness-focused bands.
“We wanted to innovate, not just the top end of our line but also in the everyday segment, which is still our biggest segment,” Scal says.
The Alta will replace the Fitbit Charge when it arrives in early April, and will not track wearers’ heart rates but will count steps, distance, sleep, and calories, as well as showing off phone calls, messages and calendar alerts on its long display.
Research firms say fitness trackers like this can coexist with smartwatches, without one cannibalising the other.
Fitbit topped the wearable technology market in the third quarter of last year, according to IDC, with 22 per cent of sales to Apple’s 18 per cent.
The firm predicts wearable technology sales will jump 44 per cent this year to reach 111 million worldwide.