Tech

The Rise of Fitbit

As technology has led us to sedentary and inactive lives, technology also made a way to get us back on track and realign us to our health and fitness needs. Fitbit created one of those technology, and it has taken over the world. This tiny bit of technology tracks every part of your day and helps you stay motivated to move and be physically active.

When people refer to their Fitbit, they are referring to their activity tracker that is either worn on the wrist or clipped on to clothing, whichever model they have. But Fitbit is also the name of the company that makes these products (more on that later).

What can Fitbit trackers do?

The key function of the Fitbit tracker is the steps calculation. While you’re using this, it calculates your heart rate and the number of steps you take every day, whether walking at work, during workouts or whatever you’re doing. It transmits the data of number of steps taken, calories burned and distance traversed via Bluetooth to our phones. It’s also sensitive and can detect how vigorous you are – it knows then you’re taking a slow stroll or taking a jog that’s more calorie-burning. This way, you can reflect about how much you keep moving to keep being healthy and fit. It motivates you to move more, transforming the activity of walking or taking the stairs from a mundane task to a rewarding game with your friends and family.

You may be familiar with these capabilities of Fitbit tracker. But the good thing about this technology is it’s not just focused on cardio fitness. It has also taken into consideration other aspects of health and fitness to highlight the importance of other factors to contribute to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Fitbit trackers also come with a sleep tracker that analyses the stage in a person’s sleep cycle. This function creates a graph showing the amount of “Awake,” “Light,” “Deep,” and “REM” sleep you are getting to understand your sleep cycle better.

You can use the Fitbit smartphone app to record your workouts, as well as your food intake. This tech also allows you to track how much water you are drinking throughout the day, placing an emphasis on the importance of diet and hydration as well. The in-app calorie counter estimates and compares what you’ve eaten versus what you’ve burnt that day. All these information are tracked by Fitbit, and with a simple tap on the screen, these information can be readily seen.

This piece of technology is really handy for those who would like to track their fitness progress, evaluate their habits and make positive changes to maintain fitness.

History of Fitbit

Fitbit was founded on March 26, 2007 by James Park and Eric Friedman. Back then, it was relatively an “unknown” company, yet eight years later on May 7, 2015, the company went public and filed for IPO with NYSE listing and competed with the likes of Apple. 2015 was the year for Fitbit, as it has reigned that time as the world’s number one purveyor of wearables, shipping more than 18 million fitness trackers all over the world without launching a new product.

The next year, it launched four new devices and led the wearables industry ahead of Apple, Xiaomi and Garmin. Though the demand for Fitbit declined, the company still enjoys its popularity. According to an IDC report publish last December 2, 2018, Fitbit is the third largest seller when it comes to shipments of wearable trackers as of the third quarter of 2018, behind Xiaomi and Apple.

Early innovations

Before experiencing all these successes, Fitbit was also one of the startup companies who started really small. James Park and Eric Friedman saw the potential for using sensors in small, wearable devices. Initially, they have raised $400,000 in funding, but that wasn’t enough. They did rounds with potential investors with some device that looks a little more than a circuit board in a wooden box.

They believed in their idea and product, so they addressed it on the TechCrunch 50 conference on September 2008. Fitbit won as a runner-up at the conference. Park and Friedman hoped to get around 50 pre-orders, but in one day, they took 2,000 pre-orders. In October, the company has raised its $2 million from its first round of funding, and it helped them with their product development and manufacturing.

In 2009, Fitbit launched its first device simply called “Fitbit.” Fitbit is a wireless-enabled device that is clipped on to the user’s clothing and uses an internal motion detector to track the wearer’s movement, calorie burn and sleep. It wasn’t smartphone-connected, but it comes with a docking unit that can synch to the device. You need to install a synching software that the user needs to install on their PC or Mac to get wireless updating to work. Initially, they shipped around 5,000 units, and gained 20,000 more orders. That year, the company won best in the Health and Wellness Category at CES.

Product expansion

Fitbit was selling directly to customers but the founders knew that they need big partners to raise more money and reach more customers. They raised more money in 2010 and teamed up with Best Buy to reach four stores. It quickly grew to 40 stores, then 650 Best Buy stores until Fitbits were sold to thousands of retail outlets worldwide.

In 2011, the first Fitbit with iPhone app integration was launched. It was the Fitbit Ultra. It is also improved with new features: a built-in altimeter, which measures vertical steps via a Stair Tracker; a digital clock; a Stopwatch Challenge for beating out previous running times; and a Chatter motivational message system. It has new tools like badges for completing your fitness challenges, plus a weight management tool that adjusts itself. The first iPhone app also features food tracking and activity planning.

In 2012, Fitbit launched the Fitbit One and the Fitbit Zip. These are the first wireless fitness trackers to use Bluetooth Smart / Bluetooth 4.0. They offer a smaller form and comes in 5 different colors. Fitbit One can track steps, distance calories burned, floors climbed and sleep patterns; while the minimalistic Zip can track step, calories and distance. Both have a tiny “tap interface” display and a replaceable watch battery that can last up to 4-6 months before it needs replacement.

Fitbit unveiled a wrist-worn activity tracker with Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Force in 2013. Flex was released in January, and has the capabilities of the previous trackers – the difference is it’s worn on the wrist. Force was released later that year, and adds an LED display that rotates between time, alarm, steps, distance, floors climbed, calories burned and very active minutes. The “very active minutes” refer to times spent at being active at medium to high intensity. It also measures sleep quality, and allows a vibrate option, so you can use it as an alarm.

However, the 2013 releases weren’t entirely successful. Some Force buyers reported that the band irritated their skin, usually occurring a number of weeks after they began wearing it. The products were recalled in 2014 and the product is never re-released. Fitbit reverted to Flex as their flagship product until the release of the three new devices.

In October 2014, Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Charge XR and Fitbit Surge were released. These three new devices monitor everything that was tracked by the Fitbit Force, plus it includes a caller ID. Charge HR has an additional feature such as continuous heart rate tracking. It can also monitor resting heart rate and heart trends. Meanwhile, Surge offers multi-sport identification, which tracks when users are running or doing other types of workout. From that data, users can access summary analysis of their workout intensity based on heart rate and calories burned.

Fitbit acquired FitStar, a fitness coaching app developer, in 2015 to add more training features to their service. As mentioned earlier, 2015 was the year when the company filed IPO and started to experience world-wide mainstream success. The name “Fitbit” is oftentimes used synonymously with “fitness trackers.”

Later on, Fitbit goes on to acquire Pebble in 2016, as the company decided to stop producing wearable technology. In 2017, Fitbit acquired smartwatch startup Vector Watch. To improve their health monitoring business, the company also purchased Twine Health, a startup that created a platform for managing chronic conditions.

Post-2015 developments

In January 2016, the company started the year by releasing the Fitbit Blaze – a smartwatch made to compete with the Apple Watch, Android Wear and Pebble. It was the company’s first venture into the smartwatch industry, but still just a simple fitness tracker at heart.

Fitbit Alta was released the next month, and it offers a full OLED screen that can be tapped for a clock, reminders or smartphone notifications. It offers the same fitness tracking features of the earlier Fitbits, plus the ability to recognize the type of activity in progress. It focused on the design improvement – it has customizable straps that you can switch out for whatever you feel like using.

Fitbit Charge 2 was also released in 2016 to improve the original Fitbit Charge and Charge HR. Compared to its predecessors, the Charge 2 has a larger screen. It also connects with GPS to keep track of your runs, and multi-sport tracking to keep track of your different exercises.

Even with these releases, sales of Fitbit flagged in 2016 and by the end of the year, the company had to let go of its 107 employees due to earnings losses. Its stocks fell by more than 50%, and because of that CEO James Park announced that the company was undergoing a transformation from a consumer electronics company to a digital healthcare company.

In 2017, Fitbit started to create waterproof fitness trackers. The Fitbit Flex 2 is waterproof and can track swimming. It can be worn as a wristband, pendant or carried in a pocket. It has an LED light display like the original Flex. It also gives notifications as “reminder to move” and vibrations when you receive a call or text.

The Fitbit Alta HR is also released in 2017. It’s an improvement of the original Alta, with added heart rate monitor, and new Sleep Stages feature. It still also takes on the style and slimness of its predecessor, with more color options for the wristband.

The “true” smartwatch from Fitbit came with the release of the Fitbit Ionic, which was the successor to both the Blaze and Surge; and was designed to compete with the Apple Watch Series 3. Iconic uses a built-in GPS, the SmartTrack (which automatically recognizes user activity and records data in the Fitbit app), and offers interchangeable bands.

In 2018, the company released the Fitbit Versa, which retains most of Ionic’s features and interface, plus it’s capable of tracking menstrual cycles. It has a square design with round edges and isn’t just functional – it looks stylish and really fashionable on the wrist.

Finally, the Fitbit Charge 3, released in October 2018, is one of the best fitness trackers you can buy on the market today. It comes with fitness features like a heart rate tracker, swim tracker, guided breathing and improved notifications. Besides a heart rate sensor, it also has an oxygen saturation sensor. The big plus is you can swim with it because it’s waterproof.

The Future for Fitbit

The most important thing that Fitbit (as well as other wearable health trackers) did is they brought the importance of physical activity to the consciousness of people. Using a monitoring device in this busy world really helps a person change perspective and improve fitness habits. Fitbit encountered ups and downs as a company, but is still one of the best global players when it comes to fitness trackers. To provide better products in the future, the company has planned to tie into more detailed clinical research to create Fitbit products that can make “lightweight” medical diagnoses.

These wearable devices are becoming more versatile and cheap enough to be availed by more people, but still, it will be the health industry that will make wearables like Fitbit to truly go mainstream. According to CDW Healthcare, wearable tracking technology can drop hospital costs for up to 16% over the course of five years. Also, remote patient monitoring tech can save the healthcare system of about $200 billion over the next 25 years. If these wearables are prescribed by health insurers or doctors, more people will start using them. This is the reason why Fitbit is here to stay.

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