Watch surges ahead

Fit­bit’s Surge is not a smart­watch, it’s a su­per watch, writes Jen­nifer Dud­ley-Ni­chol­son

Herald Sun - Switched On - - GADGETS -

It de­liv­ers phone alerts to your wrist. It dis­plays text mes­sages. It has a touch­screen and it tells the time.

Even so, users are be­ing urged not to call Fit­bit’s new­est de­vice a smart­watch.

The world’s big­gest fit­ness track­ing com­pany in­sists the Fit­bit Surge, ar­riv­ing in Australia this month, merely dab­bles in smart­watch fea­tures.

“We’re def­i­nitely not po­si­tion­ing it as a smart­watch,” Fit­bit re­gional direc­tor Steve Mor­ley as­serts. “It is a fit­ness su­per watch.”

Fit­bit would know. The seven-year-old com­pany is the mar­ket leader in ex­er­cise gad­gets, com­mand­ing seven out of ev­ery 10 fit­ness track­ers in the world.

In Australia, Fit­bit’s share is slightly higher at 73 per cent, ac­cord­ing to GfK re­tail mon­i­tor­ing.

The com­pany’s lat­est and most ad­vanced cre­ation does look sus­pi­ciously like a smart­watch though, from its 1.25-inch touch­screen to its phone call and SMS alerts, plus re­mote mu­sic con­trols.

Mor­ley says the fit­ness com­pany has as­sid­u­ously avoided the smart­watch tag with the Surge, only al­low­ing three smart­phone con­trols in the gad­get.

“The re­al­ity is tech­ni­cally we could have brought more no­ti­fi­ca­tions to the de­vice, but what we chose to let come in is what we think would be use­ful in a fit­ness su­per watch,” he says. “We be­lieve (phone call and SMS alerts) are use­ful fea­tures. We’re not look­ing to add email or cal­en­dar re­minders to the de­vice.”

In­stead, the Surge fo­cuses on a dif­fer­ent type of user, he says, an ac­tive user who is “al­ready pretty se­ri­ous about fit­ness,” who may have com­mit­ted to a sport, and who would have opted to buy a spe­cialised work­out watch in the past.

In ad­di­tion to the step­count­ing, stair­case-record­ing, sleep-track­ing fea­tures of other Fit­bit gad­gets, the Surge adds a GPS chip and a heart-rate sen­sor for the first time to ap­peal to this ac­tive au­di­ence.

Con­stant heart-rate mon­i­tor­ing from the wrist had been “the No.1 de­manded fea­ture” from users, Mor­ley says, and will help more ac­cu­rately es­ti­mate calo­rie burn and track more sports.

“You’re not re­ally mov­ing a great deal if you’re into yoga but you’re cer­tainly work­ing re­ally hard and it’s great ex­er­cise,” he says. “Be­cause of the heartrate func­tion­al­ity, we be­come rel­e­vant to all ex­er­cises.”

The Surge will also track runs and hikes with its GPS fea­ture, dis­play­ing trails on a map. But its bat­tery will only last for five hours with GPS en­gaged, rather than the seven days with­out it.

Fit­bit will let Surge users eas­ily swap back to other, more dis­creet Fit­bit de­vices for ev­ery­day wear, Mor­ley says, with an app up­date com­ing soon. While the $350 Surge watch is clearly de­signed for ac­tive wear­ers, an­other rea­son Fit­bit may want to steer clear of the ‘smart­watch’ badge is the pop­u­lar­ity of fit­ness tech­nol­ogy.

Ju­niper es­ti­mates 19 mil­lion fit­ness track­ers were in use last year, and pre­dicts that num­ber will more than triple to in ex­cess of 70 mil­lion by 2018.

But ad­vanced fit­ness track­ers will com­pete with smart­watches, the re­search firm finds, as smart­watch mak­ers add more move­ment sen­sors and fit­ness fea­tures to ap­peal to a larger au­di­ence.

Com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Sam­sung and HTC, for ex­am­ple, are ex­pected to launch fit­ness-track­ing wear­able tech­nol­ogy at the Mo­bile World Congress in Barcelona next month.

“What we chose to let come in is what we think would be use­ful in a fit­ness

su­per watch”

FIT­BIT RE­GIONAL DIREC­TOR STEVE MOR­LEY

The Fit­bit Surge can track more sports thanks to its heart-rate sen­sor.

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