- The Apple Watch should get better at tracking health trends over time with its watchOS 6 update, which represents a key area in which Apple’s smartwatch was lacking as a fitness tracker.
- Among the new features coming in watchOS 6 are capabilities that Fitbit has long offered, such as providing more insight around a user’s VO2 max reading and menstrual-cycle tracking.
- With Apple, one of Fitbit’s biggest competitors in the United States, adding more robust fitness features to the Apple Watch, it’s getting increasingly difficult for Fitbit to differentiate its products.
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Apple and Fitbit have long offered similar features when it comes to fitness tracking, such as the ability to track workouts and calories burned, and provide notifications that remind wearers to move if they have been sedentary for too long.
But Fitbit, a company with its origins in health, has previously offered more comprehensive native fitness tracking than Apple.
However, that looks as if it’s on pace to change soon as Apple continues to expand the health-tracking capabilities of its smartwatch. Apple has edged even closer to Fitbit in recent years in the variety of fitness-oriented features it offers, and the company’s watchOS 6 update arriving this fall should make the company’s smartwatch an even more thorough fitness tracker.
When the update rolls out later this year, the Apple Watch will gain a couple of key features that Fitbit devices have long provided. Most importantly, the Apple Watch should get better at tracking fitness trends, an area in which Apple had been lacking compared with dedicated fitness trackers. Apple says that with watchOS 6, Apple Watch owners can view key metrics over the past 90 days and compare them over the past year to get a sense of whether they’re improving.
Users will be able to track over time the stand, move, and exercise metrics measured in the three rings on the Apple Watch’s activity-themed face, as well as walking pace, running pace, and cardio fitness level. Apple says that if wearers are trending downward in any of these metrics, it will provide guidance to help set them on an upward trajectory.
The Apple Watch already tracks users’ VO2 max, which measures the maximum rate at which your body can deliver oxygen to your muscles when exercising. It’s said to be a great indicator of longevity, in some cases even more accurate than how often a person exercises, according to Runner’s World. But with watchOS 6, the Apple Watch should be able to analyse how that metric is evolving over time, as well as provide more information about what your VO2 max reading should be for people in your age range.
Apple’s missing piece of the puzzle
That should be particularly worrying for Fitbit. In 2016, the company launched a similar capability called Cardio Fitness Score, a feature that tracks a user’s cardio fitness level, provides them a rating, and gives them advice on how to make changes in their routine to improve their score.
Fitbit and Apple are far from the only companies to offer VO2 max monitoring on their wearable devices – Garmin, Samsung, and Huawei do so as well. But Apple is one of Fitbit’s biggest competitors in the United States, according to the market-research firm NPD Group, which reported earlier this year that Apple led the smartwatch market in the US, followed by Samsung and Fitbit.
The US market is particularly important for Fitbit, which said in its latest earnings report that sales in the US alone made up 50% of its revenue, representing a 3% drop year over year. (The company said it did see a 36% year-over-year increase in devices sold in its fiscal first quarter, though the average selling price had dropped by 19% since it launched less expensive devices.)
The health context that Fitbit provides based on a user’s cardio fitness level was one of the few features that differentiated Fitbit’s devices from the Apple Watch, and it seems that’s about to change in a matter of months.
It’s a critical move for Apple’s smartwatch, which has excelled at serving up key health metrics and tracking a wide variety of exercise types but hasn’t done much when it comes to making sense of all that data. Giving users a snapshot of what it means over time and providing insight into how to improve has been the missing piece of the puzzle the Apple Watch needed to be a true general-purpose fitness tracker – not just a smartwatch with a lot of fitness-tracking features.
The Apple Watch is gaining another capability Fitbit has already offered too: Apple says the watchOS 6 and iOS 13 updates coming later this year will enable menstrual-cycle tracking both on the watch and in the Health app, with the ability for users to log symptoms like headaches and view the days of their period and their fertility window. Users can also choose to view multiple months at a time, and Apple says its system will integrate with third-party period-tracking apps too.
Fitbit’s app has supported menstrual-cycle monitoring since last spring, when it launched its Versa smartwatch. In Fitbit’s app, for example, the dashboard can tell wearers when their next period is expected, and they can track their symptoms and mood in the app as well.
The watchOS 6 update will certainly put the Apple Watch on a more level playing field with Fitbit’s devices when it comes to performance as a fitness tracker. But even so, there are three important ways in which Fitbit’s watches and trackers still outshine Apple’s: sleep tracking, battery life, and pricing.
The Apple Watch still doesn’t offer native sleep tracking, though it does support third-party apps that do so. (That might not be the case for too long, as Apple is said to be working on sleep tracking for the Apple Watch.)
Fitbit, meanwhile, offers fairly comprehensive sleep tracking that can tell wearers how much time they have spent in deep, light, and REM sleep, presenting that information in a graph. You can also see the average amount of sleep you get over a week, and the app provides tidbits of information about how a lack of sleep can harm your health.
The battery on devices like the Fitbit Versa can also last multiple days, whereas I’m typically happy to get two days out of the Apple Watch Series 4. Long battery life is a necessity for sleep tracking – after all, how can you log your sleep if you have to charge your device overnight?
Plus, Fitbit’s smartwatches are noticeably cheaper than Apple’s. The standard Fitbit Versa starts at $US180, whereas the Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $US399. That makes Fitbit’s smartwatch less than half as expensive as Apple’s.
As Apple pushes deeper into health, Fitbit is expanding beyond watches and trackers
All told, Apple’s watchOS 6 update is another sign that it’s getting increasingly difficult for Fitbit to differentiate its products from the Apple Watch and other rival wearables.
Fitbit has been making an effort to diversify its revenue stream beyond consumer products with premium services such as the one it plans to launch later this year and its enterprise health program called Fitbit Health Solutions. The company said that program grew 70% year over year and generated $US30.5 million in revenue in its first fiscal quarter, accounting for a small but growing chunk of its overall revenue of $US272 million.
But smartwatches and trackers still account for most of Fitbit’s revenue, and based on Apple’s increased focus on health, it doesn’t sound as if the company plans to slow down anytime soon. After all, CEO Tim Cook has even told CNBC that Apple’s “greatest contribution to mankind” would be about health.
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