With its latest wristband activity tracker, Fitbit is leaving no feature behind.
The Fitbit Force ($130) packs in all of the features from the company’s first wristband, the Fitbit Flex, but it adds in an altimeter to track the stairs you’ve climbed and a tiny display that displays the time and other information. Fitbit is edging close to smartwatch territory, though the company tells me it classifies the Force more as an activity tracker that also tells time.
Like the Flex and most of Fitbit’s other clip-on health trackers, the Force can also track the amount of steps you take, your sleep patterns, and the amount of calories you’ve burned throughout the day. It can also wake you up gently by buzzing on your wrist (something most other wristband health trackers can do), and it synchronizes with your phone using low-power Bluetooth 4.0.
Fitbit founder and chief executive James Park tells me it has made plenty of algorithmic improvements to its wristband design with the Force. It feels a bit slimmer than the Flex (which always struck me as a bit too bulky), and it’s an all-in-one unit, whereas the Flex featured a tiny tracker that you slipped into a wristband sleeve. The Flex will stick around at $99 for buyers who don’t need all of the Force’s features.
“There’s no one size fits all, we have a lot of passionate users, a lot of people are adamant they don’t want to wear stuff on their wrists,” Park said, referring to fans of the company’s long-running clip-on health trackers. “The Fitbit One is still a great product, the Flex and Force just accommodate people that don’t mind wearing something on their wrist.”
Eventually, the Force’s tiny screen will serve other functions, like display incoming caller ID notifications. While there’s not much screen space to work with, it could be enough for other simple notifications as well.
With smartwatches like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear accepting third-party apps, I asked Park if he’d ever consider creating an app for one of those platforms. “For us, the key to our success has been the integration of the hardware form factor and the software, not sure the smartwatch guys know who they’re trying to serve,” he said. “I’m not sure if we want to invest significant resources in developing for those products yet.”
And really, who needs a smartwatch when your health tracker tells time?
Fitbit is based in San Francisco, and has raised round $66 million in funding so far, including a recent $43 million round from Qualcomm Ventures, SAP Ventures, and Softbank Capital.