Fitbit’s unveiling of the new, not-exactly-attractive Blaze fitness watch last month was met with mixed reactions and a sinking stock price. With its latest product, Fitbit is going pure aesthetics.
The wearable tech company just announced the Alta, a leather, bracelet-like activity tracker with a tap-sensitive, monochrome OLED display. Aimed at everyday wearers (read: not a performance fitness device), the Alta records daily activity levels, including steps and sleep.
Like many other activity trackers, the Alta will vibrate when you’ve been sitting on your butt for too long, nudging you to move. And it includes Fitbit’s relatively new "smart track" feature, which is supposed to automatically recognize when you’ve started an exercise like running, cycling, elliptical, or sport-specific workouts, and log it in Fitbit’s mobile app for you.
The Alta does not have optical heart rate sensors, or GPS, which means the battery life is expected to last up to five days on a full charge. It will also alert wearers to notifications from iOS, Android, and Windows Phone smartphones through vibrations and on the band’s display. The Alta ships in March and costs $130, the same price as the Fitbit Charge — in fact, it’s effectively replacing the Charge.
This is all pretty standard stuff for Fitbit, so the appeal here is clearly supposed to be its looks. The tracker itself is silver stainless steel (with a gold stainless steel version in the works), and it can be attached to a variety of different hide leather bands.
While the current batch of wrist-based Fitbits — Charge HR, Surge, and Blaze — appeal to different levels of "active" people, almost all of the trackers have a sparse, utilitarian design. The rubbery wristbands aren’t ugly, but they’re certainly not pretty, either.
Millions of people — even the president of the United States — have worn them anyway because of what they can do, and because at this point it’s a widely recognized brand. According to a new report from The NPD Group, Fitbit claims 79 percent of the market for activity trackers in the US, and the company said during its last earnings call that it had sold 30 million devices to date.
To get the rest of the world on board, Fitbit wants to be taken seriously by fashionistas: it even invited several New York fashion editors to a morning of workouts and juices at the Trump SoHo hotel yesterday to get a first look at the new device.
The market for stylish wearables is getting increasingly crowded, as wearable makers grapple with customer retention issues. If people aren’t inspired to wear them for extended periods of time, then they’re not recording any data, goes the thinking.
Jawbone, which claims industrial designer Yves Behar as its chief creative officer, has been making bracelet-like activity trackers since 2011, though it has run into issues with its Up products. (In fact, you might say that the new Fitbit Alta looks similar to a Jawbone, but with a display. Jawbone is also in the midst of a patent infringement lawsuit with Fitbit.)
if people aren't inspired to wear them, then there's no data being collected
Apple has made very obvious efforts to establish the Apple Watch as an accessory worn by celebrities and fashion elite. And the tubular, brushed aluminum Ray tracker from Misfit, which is now owned by watchmaker Fossil, received one of our best in show awards at CES last month for its sleek design and six-month battery life. Fossil itself has pledged to bring more than 100 connected devices to market this year.
Fitbit actually forged a partnership with fashion brand Tory Burch back in 2014 to offer a better-looking band for its modular Flex tracker. The company has said in the past that the Tory Burch Fitbit was sold out at retail channels, though it’s hard to say whether that means it was a huge success or there was simply limited inventory.
We haven’t had the chance to try the Alta for an extended period yet, so stay tuned for a full review.
Photography by Chris Welch