What separates a smartwatch from a fitness tracker? To me, it’s the ability to see notifications from your phone, replying to messages, taking calls, music controls or even on-wrist playback, and third-party apps.
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For the longest time, Fitbit smartwatches in the Versa and Sense lines easily met that criteria. With the Sense 2 and Versa 4 introduced in October of 2022, that began to change. The ability to take calls came after launch, while there are no media controls and certainly no offline storage of songs or podcasts.
Lastly, there’s no support for third-party applications, just watch faces. On Friday, Fitbit reiterated that as it streamlined its developer tools. The web-based Fitbit Studio will be deprecated in April for just a command-line SDK. The company is committed to supporting and allowing third-party watch face development, but was very explicit about how it does “not have plans to offer third party apps on these health and wellness focused devices.”
That’s our clearest view yet into how Fitbit perceives the Sense 2, Versa 4, and any future devices in those lines. Looking at past Fitbit statements, iPhone support is the other reason for the Sense 2 and Versa 4 existing, while multi-day battery life with an always-on display remains appealing.
Where Fitbit is taking these devices makes sense in the context of focusing on the Pixel Watch. However, it might be time to stop considering them to be smartwatches.
Rather, Fitbit should draw inspiration from its line of fitness trackers. Personally, I’ve always been more of a fan of Fitbit’s trackers. (The actual cardinal sin of Fitbit smartwatches is that they never adopted an E-Ink screen post-Pebble acquisition. I kid, but not by much.)
Anyways, trackers are meaningfully smaller with great battery life and simple AODs for just the time. Not having a larger square or rectangular display on your wrist is appreciably different. The Fitbit Luxe from 2021 is a gorgeous device that succeeds at being jewelry-like in nature.
With that in mind, what does a premium fitness tracker look like? Is there room for a tier above the popular Charge series? Such a device would have to appeal to people that want a smartwatch, while decidedly lacking the full feature set given Fitbit’s modern priorities/limitations.
Off the top of my head, the word “smartband” comes to mind with:
- A big enough portrait screen to comfortably show notifications
- Rich messaging experience with smart and voice replies
- Basic apps: Weather, Agenda, Google Home smart controls
- Music playback controls, at the very least, which would require Fitbit to backtrack
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