Last week at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, Fitbit, the world’s leader in personal activity tracking, announced their latest device, the Fitbit Blaze, a fashionable fitness watch that has been amusingly labeled as a smartwatch. According to New York Times, the announcement made Fitbits stock fall 18% on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 stating “investors [are] worried about its ability to compete with Apple and other makers of wearable technology”. This may be true if Fitbit was actually trying to compete with the Apple Watch functionally instead of fashionably.
Over the past year more fashionable fitness wearables by Withings with the Activiaté and recently announced e-ink based band, Go, as well a Fossil’s Q Series have opened the eyes to consumers that fitness trackers don’t have to look like rubber bracelets anymore. A quick search on Etsy returns pages of handmade braclets for the fitbit flex. Even the 2012 kickstarter Pebble Watch is jumping into the fitness world too, recently introducing the “Pebble Health” platform for three of its watches.
Yes, the Blaze also includes “smart” features like basic notifications and alerts but can you use it to respond to phone calls or texts? No. Can you ask it for directions to grandmas house? no. Can you call grandma? no. Can you check out at a store using a mobile payment system? no. Does it have custom apps? sort of. It provides on-screen workouts with FitStar. But, FitStar requires an additional $39.99 a month subscription.
What the Blaze does have in common with other wearable products like the Apple watch, Pebble, or Samsung Gear is being a “health and fitness companion”. According to Fortune (December 2015) Fitbit dominates the fitness segment of wearable technology, owning 22.2% marketshare, retaining its lead over Apple, as well as other companies like Garmin, Withings, Basis, Under Armour (now owner of the popular MyFitnessPal app), Nike and even Microsoft and Google Fit. So, if I could tell Fitbits investors one thing, it would be that Apple (as well as Samsung, Google band Pebble) are trying to compete more against the Fitbit Health Platform than Fitbit is trying to compete with the Apple Watch or Apple Health. Relax; the Blaze is no Apple Watch.
In an article by Paul Lamkin in Forbes Tech, Lamkin describes the Blaze as an “evolution of the popular Fitbit Charge HR“. I disagree, the Blaze looks like nothing more than a fashionably repackaged Surge at a better price. In a side by side comparison, the only differences between the Surge and Blaze are price, the Blaze is $50 less; intergrated GPS, the Surge includes this but the Blaze tethers your phone GPS; and design.
Being a Flex and Charge HR user myself, I was hoping to also see fashionable alternatives to those devices as well, or an altogether new device similar to the Blaze but with GPS as well as a built in audio player with Bluetooth and maybe even LTE data so you can finally leave your phone where it belongs: in the locker room.