Movement everywhere—all the time, that seems to be the idea Fitbit capitalizes on when it comes to its approach to tracking exercise. More like the concept that many small movements combined, equate to big moves— and huge successes for the tech company. The San Francisco based company, founded by (CEO) James Park, and (CTO) Eric Friedman in 2007, got off the ground when the two entrepreneurs pedaled the concept of sensors in small, wearable devices at the Tech Crunch 50 conference in 2008. Hoping to garner maybe 50 pre-orders with little more than a circuit board in a wooden box to show, the pair left that day with 2000 pre-orders for a Fitbit tracker that had never even been manufactured before.
Small Steps, Every One Counts
The early trackers harnessed the potential for technology, using sensors to capture information reflecting movement in small, wearable devices. And if other companies were cashing in on accuracy and precision, Fitbit’s base philosophy seemed to say, “fitness is everywhere” and “let’s make it count”. From the onset, one of the biggest come on attractions for the tech product was its website where users could upload information, analyze their performance, and share with other Fitbit users everywhere, in a community of their own. This got people thinking about step counts, calories consumed, and distance travelled in everyday activities. Rather than taking the more serious, intense, route to fitness, Fitbit looked to translate the moves we made (and how we lived) into measurable metrics that could then be used to motivate, inspire, and reach higher.
Early Technology Pays Off
Early products, like the Ultra incorporated an altimeter, stopwatch, and digital clock, while others like the Fitbit One and the Fitbit Zip were the first wireless devices to use Bluetooth 4.0 and Blue Tooth Smart technology. Both synced to iOS and Android phones, while interfacing with the Fitbit website. Fitbit One was designed to track steps, record distance, track floors climbed, number of calories burned, and record sleep patterns. The Fitbit Zip tracked number of steps walked, distance, and calories. While initially marketed directly to the public, by partnering with retailer, Best Buy early on, and later other retailers, like REI, Target, and online mega marketplace Amazon, Fitbit Inc. skyrocketed in sales, eventually going public late spring 2015.
Interactive Site and Personal Training App
The Fitbit website and mobile app for iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile allows users to log food intake, activities, and weight. Fitness trackers can also sync to smart devices through Bluetooth, or upload data to a computer with Windows/MacOS via Bluetooth USB dongle. The app can even be used on a community page where users not only challenge themselves, set daily and weekly goals for calories, steps, and distance, but also compete against each other, earning badges they can choose to share with the online community.
Fitbit’s personal trainer app, Fitstar delivers personalized training right to the device with customized workouts that adjust to progress. Features such as guided coaching, and recommendations, personal tracking, and new work routines added regularly help keep the app interesting, at a price point that you’d expect ($39.99). Like other fitness tracking developers, Fitbit offers a bevy of corporate fitness tools to support employee health and wellness programs of every size and budget. Dashboards, challenges, account management, stats, and summaries all work to provide information and insight into individual and collective health and fitness profiles.
Moving Forward With Fitbit
Fitbit’s Blaze, released last year is the company’s first ever smart fitness watch with color screen that either tracks or monitors steps, calories, stairs, active time, resting heart rate, sleep stages and quality of sleep. Perks to the slim, hexagonal model include the ability to swap out an array of different watchbands that dress the piece up and down. The Blaze also features three of Fitstar’s guided sessions, stats, exercise options including run, bike, and elliptical, a Relax function that offers guided breathing and Timer, with stopwatch and countdown option function. Strangely, for a smart fitness watch, there’s no GPS, which requires a smartphone tag along if the heart rate monitor is to be used for intense exercise. The Relax option aids in guided breathing, and while Alarms and Settings are available, no smart alarm function is offered to wake you in the lightest parts of sleep. The Blaze also isn’t waterproof, so forget showering with the fitness watch, and definitely no swimming with this device either.
Sometimes looks trump function in a fitness tracker, as with Fitbit’s Alta that lets users change out a host of different bands in classic sporty, leather, and stainless steel finishes at three different price points, ready to house the small 1.4-inch OLED screen. Like most Fitbits, the Alta tracks steps, distance, active time and calories utilizing a three-axis accelerometer. The device tracks sleep automatically like other models and the clock is easily customized both vertically and horizontally. Friendly reminders to motivate movement appear hourly with messages like, “Feed me steps!” Aside from that, the battery lasts up to a week before needing a charge, and the unit is significantly lighter than other fitness trackers. This was clearly designed for users who don’t need hardcore fitness functions (there is no heart rate monitor) but still a good-looking quality tracker for those who just need more basic options.
Charge 2, Fitbit’s more recent release is sleek with its polished silver body and black and white OLED screen. Somewhere between smartwatch and fitness tracker, Charge 2 fits comfortably on the wrist, includes a heart rate monitor and comes in special editions like black with gun metal body or lavender and rose gold. Bands can also be changed up with nicer materials like Luxe leather as well. The Charge 2 utilizes SmartTrack, which recognizes running, cycling and other activities. Hourly activity, floors climbed, and active minutes are auto-detected as well. Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights tracks sleep behavior, bathroom breaks, bedtimes and wake up times, offering an overall review of sleep cycles along with useful feedback.
Charge 2 continuously monitors heart rate with Fitbit’s Pure Pulse tech and again relies on pairing up with a phone and tying into the ConnectedGPS feature to collect pace and distance information. A guided breathing option and VO2 Max are both new features for Fitbit, however. The guided breathing function personalizes a cool down breathing routine based on the user’s own heart rate. Through a pulsating animation, individuals mirror the rhythm on the screen through deep breathing and relaxation.
VO2 Max, part of the Fitbit app is under “Cardio Fitness Level”. The setting essentially uses the wearer’s resting heart rate, along with physical profile (age, height, weight, fitness level) to compare to others of the same gender and age group. Fat burn, cardio, and peak heart rate zone is also displayed for Charge 2 users as well, which presents the most complete “heart-related” picture from any Fitbit to date. The unit, while sweat and splash resistant still can’t be worn in water, however. Despite improvements over other earlier trackers, and the addition of VO2 Max, Charge 2 still doesn’t appear to be up to intense training standards and is probably better left to mainstream users instead.
It’s no secret that the company has struggled this last year in the market and looks to regroup with some new ideas, like building its own health app store and partnering with healthcare companies to offer incentives for Fitbit users. Exactly when all of this will be in place, however is yet to be determined.