Fitbit Ionic: Five Things You Might Have Missed

There's a new heart rate monitor on board, which Fitbit is being oddly tight-lipped about. It's not the PurePulse of old, but a new one which uses red LEDs instead of green - and that's a big deal.

Fitbit's new smartwatch is finally official, and set for our wrists this Christmas. There's a lot riding on the Fitbit Ionic - not least Fitbit's fragile share price, and investors are keenly waiting for the company's answer to swashbuckling Apple Watch sales and forecasts that prophesise a big future for smartwatches.

But beyond the Fitbit smartwatch announcement, here's my guide to five significant things that might have gone under the radar.

Source: Fitbit

New heart rate monitor

There's a new heart rate monitor on board, which Fitbit is being oddly tight-lipped about. It's not the PurePulse of old, but a new one which uses red LEDs instead of green - and that's a big deal.

The new sensor is capable of tracking seriously complex metrics, such as relative SpO2 and will let the Ionic monitor conditions like sleep apnea - although it will do neither of those things out of the box, with further development required. However, the company has confirmed that its new sensor performs much better at higher intensity, which was a big criticism of older devices including the Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Charge 2.

Guided workouts

The Blaze featured some pretty basic workouts thanks to Fitbit's acquisition of Fitstar - and these have been expanded on the Ionic. These are dynamic workouts, and you can offer feedback on whether a routine was too easy or hard, and it will adapt next time. It's also developed wellness plans such as four week sugar detox, with a couch-to-5k plan in the works.

But the selections are still fairly limited. Fitbit has expanded its paid-for version of Fitbit Coach with a much bigger selection of varied regimes and workouts, but these will remain behind a paywall - the amount for which is unconfirmed.

We can't help feeling it would have been better for these to have included on Ionic - wholesale and free. What's more, these paid-for Fitbit Coach workouts land in October but won't hit Ionic until 2018 anyway, which seems a bit bonkers to me.

Source: Fitbit

Adidas partnership

Finally, Fitbit has managed to sign on Adidas for a special edition version of Ionic - which will include some new features specific to the device. It's a big coup and the company is rightly delighted, going toe-to-toe with Apple and Nike's special Watch partnership. There are scant details so far, but it's a big boost for the brand - it's just a shame that it's another aspect delayed until 2018.

Impressive numbers

When it comes to raw numbers, the Fitbit Ionic certainly impresses. The 1000-nit screen is really crisp and bright, with an above-average 348 x 250 display. There's four days of battery life and 10 hours of GPS tracking, with 50 metres of water resistance, backed up by a swimming mode. It means the Fitbit Ionic has the guts to go toe-to-toe with most Garmin sports watches, and should have the ability to grow with users as they gain in fitness and confidence.

Source: Fitbit

Too many delays

Fitbit has clearly put everything behind getting this smartwatch to market - but delayed components take the edge off what could have been a game-changing device.

We've already mentioned that the Adidas version and advanced Fitbit Coach workouts won't land until 2018, and the extra features that the new heart rate sensor could offer are under wraps. But that's not the end of delays to this device.

Fitbit Pay partners are still yet to be announced. which raises the possibility that users could wait months to get access, depending on their bank. It took a while for Apple to get a full suite of banks on board for Apple Pay, although it should be easier for Fitbit to sign up partners now those walls have been broken down.

The watch's app store is still pretty bare, with just a handful of apps from Strava, Starbucks, AccuWeather and Pandora. The SDK will make it possible (and easy) for third party developers to make apps, thanks to the Pebble javascript platform acquired from the Fitbit buyout. However, that SDK won't be with developers for weeks, and it will take a while for apps to filter through.

The upshot is that anyone investing in the Fitbit Ionic will have to do so with some faith - not that these promised features and developments will land, that much is given - but that these features will be a success when they actually drop. And that's not an ideal situation.


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