Fitbit rolls out smarter wristbands; Survey the wearables in a crowded field …

28 Oct 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Fitbit Charge Replaces the Recalled Force Tracker; GPS Smartwatch Due Early 2015.

Fitbit on Monday unveiled three fitness trackers — including a “super watch” that could compete with Apple’s upcoming smart watch — in hopes of helping customers forget about its embarrassing product recall in February. Fitbit Inc., a maker of fitness-tracking wristbands, unveiled three new wearable computing devices as it seeks to woo consumers in the smartwatch market before Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) moves in.

Fitbit’s new range includes the $129 fitbit charge, the $149 chargeHR while also has a heart rate sensors, and the $249 Surge which has GPS, heart rate monitoring and smartwatch functionality. ‘Continuing our mission to inspire people to lead healthier, more active lives, we’re releasing these three new innovative devices to help reach everyday, active or performance health and fitness goals,’ the San Francisco firm said. ‘Surge is Fitbit’s most advanced tracker to date: a sleek ‘Fitness Super Watch,’ designed for those looking for peak performance,’ the firm said. The Charge, Charge HR and Surge all measure steps, distance and calories burned, track sleep, and include caller ID, the San Francisco-based company said today in a statement. It was rumoured that the Californian firm would release a standalone heart rate monitor called PurePulse, but this technology has been built into the new products. This is expected to provide real-time workout data, and statistics – including heart rate, calories, steps, pace, elevation and distance – will sync wirelessly to a smartphone via an app.

The company has packed the highest end model, the Surge, with eight sensors that continuously monitor health statistics and the wearer’s location to create a comprehensive log of activity throughout the day. The company is now rolling out a new version, the Charge, with a similar feature set, and will launch two more aggressive products in early 2015: a Charge with a heart-rate monitor and a GPS-equipped smartwatch called the Surge. These were revealed in a patent application, filed earlier this year, which detailed a wearable device called FitBit Charge that includes, among other features: ‘Pedometers; altimeters; devices for displaying [and] measuring, time, date, steps taken, calories burned, distance travelled, floors climbed, active time, elevation, altitude, speed, pace, hours slept, quality of sleep, heart rate, routes, navigational information, and weather information.’ This suggests the devices will feature ‘smart’ notifications, including call and text notifications, on the wrist, and will let wearers control music from their wrist – in a bid to take on smartwatches.

Fitbit priced its newest watches from $130 for the Charge to $250 for the Surge, making the most expensive model $100 cheaper than the $349 starting price for an Apple Watch, which is scheduled to launch in early 2015. Like the Force, the $130 Charge has both an accelerometer and an altimeter inside, and shows the time and small bits of information via a monochrome OLED display. Last month, iPhone maker Apple said it would roll out its first smartwatch early next year, challenging phone rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co. as well as smaller companies like Fitbit in the wearables market. Fitbit will not only have to overcome competition from smartphone makers, but also its own bungled rollout of a previous line of wristbands that were recalled last February amid complaints from users about skin rashes.

Fitbit also today announced the integration of Microsoft’s Cortana voice-activation feature to allow verbal logs on its devices when linked to Windows Phone applications. The Surge, also not due out until early 2015, will include GPS tracking to measure pace, distance, elevation and other data during a wearer’s workout. Almost identical to its sibling, the Charge HR has an optical sensor on the underside of its band that continuously measures blood volume levels to gauge heart rate. But after the Force went on sale in the U.S. and Canada, the company received about 9,900 reports of skin irritation and 250 reports of blistering, according to the U.S. And despite the fact that it’s got eight sensors (3-axis accelerometers, gyroscope, compass, ambient light sensor, GPS and heart rate), its battery will last up to seven days on a charge.

The company pulled the model from online and retail stores and offered full refunds, although some customers complained the refund process, handled by a third-party company, was slow and frustrating. Lindsay Cook, Fitbit’s director of product marketing, said the company believes it has moved past the “speed bump” caused by the recall, although it took longer than usual to bring a Force replacement to market because the company started more stringent testing to make sure the latest models don’t cause the same allergic reactions.

More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also investigated the Fitbit Flex models, but the company agreed to add labels on Flex packaging warning about the potential for nickel allergies.

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