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Fitbit Ionic: The Fitter Smartwatch?

America’s favourite fitness tracker takes on the world‘s leading smartwatches with the Fitbit Ionic. The one edge it has at the moment seems to be the 15-day headstart in its release ahead of the frontrunner Apple Watch 3. Still, Ionic is an interesting addition to the smartwatch race and could well nudge wearable IoT into new territory.

Just weeks before of the new Apple Watch reveal Fitbit launched Ionic, its first proper smartwatch, into the smartwatch market. Suddenly the colourful fitness tracker evolved into a smartwatch complete with multiple clock faces, onboard music, a battery that lasts more than 4 days and makes contactless payments. Even for the uninitiated, it seems a fitness tracker is throwing down the gauntlet to leading smartwatch makers. A bold decision, but is it a wise one?

Into the fray

Known for its colourful wristbands, it was hailed the Swatch of its time. It tapped timely and successfully into the consumer’s fitness psyche in the early decade. With simplistic features that monitor heart rate, track sleeping patterns, count steps and calories, Fitbit confidently took the market leader position in wearables.

Fitbit recently struggled in the mass consumer shift to feature-rich devices. It blamed smartwatches for its revenue decline. Now with Ionic, Fitbit joins the game with a technically-complete smartwatch.

But how do its features add up next to its new rivals’?

Fitbit Ionic vs Apple Watch 3

Both now being equals as smartwatches, we put Ionic up against the Apple Watch as a fitness tracker. Here are some of Ionic’s key features next to the industry’s frontrunner.

Overall, Fitbit is the stronger of the two in automated tracking. This means Fitbit starts tracking any walking, running, cycling, and elliptical exercises automatically without any input. Users just have to gear up and go. The Apple Watch is less automated, but it recognizes a wider range of sports and exercises including bowling and skiing.

Both the Fitbit Ionic and Apple Watch lets you play with a variety of fun watchfaces. The Apple Watch, however, truly personalizes the user experience with a new Siri watchface which speaks to users, a detail which counts a lot for runners and swimmers – you don’t have to look at your watch all the time. And with the optional cellular capability, Apple Watch users can now leave both wallet and phone at home.

An interesting new bit in the Ionic is the Fitbit Coach, which programmes a series of workouts and provides feedback in real-time. These curricula of workouts also adapt accordingly to the user’s fitness and workout history, learning, and re-programming better-personalised workouts with time.

Apple has its own version of a coach – a convincingly more human feature called Smart Coaching which gives encouragement whenever the user needs. Like a personal trainer, it messages and motivates the user every morning, reports on progress, and gives suggestions on how to complete workout goals – these suggestions could be as simple as doing cartwheels with the kids.

Another debut in the smartwatch world is Fitbit’s oximeter sensors. They measure the amount of oxygen in the blood, a particularly useful data in tracking serious health conditions such as sleep apnea. The Apple version of heart tracking, later this year, will be able to identify potentially serious heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation, through the Apple Heart Study, a research initiative by Apple.

For many users, a fitness tracker’s battery life translates to stamina. Fitbit claims a reported 4 days from a single charge with 10 hours of GPS tracking. That’s more than double the 18 hours Apple Watch can promise with a 5-hour GPS tracking included.

Accurate estimates and lower errors

It’s no surprise that wrist-based wearables don’t make the most accurate fitness trackers. At best, they provide accurate estimates or lowest errors.

According to the Journal of Personalized Medicine published in May 2017, a research of 7 popular activity trackers found that Apple Watch had the lowest error rates while the Samsung Gear S2 has the highest. Fitbit’s accuracy sat somewhere in the middle. They also found that most of the devices measured heart rates accurately, but none provided a reliable calorie count.

Fitbit told Reuters Health that its trackers use a scientifically-validated estimate of (basal metabolic rate) based on height, weight, age, and gender information which users provide during account set-up. Fitbit’s claims will only stand the test of (a very short) time before the same researchers complete their current study of the 7 devices in a real-world environment.

Watch out for this one

It’s a brand new race for Fitbit as a smartwatch. But it’s early days – remember, the frontrunner Apple Watch is a little more than two years old. The entry of Fitbit, the more experienced contender, may well incite a more exciting outcome for wearables.

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