SidekicksFitbit has long partnered with some of the biggest healthcare insurers in the country, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, to provide users with activity trackers at a discount. That prospect is made more attractive with affordable devices, like Fitbit's popular Versa wearable.Earlier this year, Fitbit stripped the Versa Lite of its extraneous features, like the altimeter, in order to lower the price tag. This fall’s Versa 2 is a return to the higher price range ($200) but it also promises a more premium experience. For the first time, the Versa 2 won’t have a neatly inscribed “fitbit” on the bezel. It will also have a brighter AMOLED display, an onboard microphone, and a variety of subdued, tasteful finishes and woven straps.
On Thursday, Amazon said Alexa-enabled devices can now handle customers’ sensitive medical data, and it teased the release of a new kit that would allow approved outside developers to build Alexa skills that access users’ private health information, paving the way for the voice assistant to play a bigger role in health care.
Sleep Score—a feature I beta-tested which tracks factors like your restlessness and time spent awake to give you a single metric that tells you if you slept well or not—will be available to all Fitbit users who have a heart-rate tracking device. The app will also include other sleep features, like smart wake, which will awaken you while you are in light or REM sleep versus deep sleep, making for an easier start to your day.The Versa 2 will also be Alexa-enabled; you can also use voice-to-text, if you have an Android phone. I'm especially excited to see an optional always-on mode, so that you won’t have to constantly shake or tap the device to wake it up while you’re running or discreetly checking the time during a meeting.
And Fitbit's latest smart scale, the Aria Air, is Bluetooth-enabled, will wirelessly sync with the Fitbit app, and will be provided for free to members by health management company Solera Health. Most importantly, at $50, it will be one of the more affordable smart scales on the market, and much cheaper than Fitbit's previous one, the $130 Aria 2.While Fitbit claims its focus is on comprehensive and accessible healthcare, its partnerships extend way beyond those with doctors and insurance providers. On your new Versa 2, you can also access your Spotify Premium account and use Fitbit Pay to pay your fare on a Staten Island bus. You can accessorize your wearable with a band designed by Kim Shui, who worked with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. You can swap in a band from Recco Technology, which makes avalanche and rescue beacons for when your backcountry adventure takes a turn.
It's easy to see these myriad partnerships, and the downward slide of its device pricing, as frantic flailing from a company that has struggled with falling sales in the past few years. It's also hard to ignore that Fitbit seems to be hitching all its hopes to a wagon that bears a marked resemblance to its closest competitor, the Apple Watch.
But truthfully, I enjoyed testing the last two versions of the Versa and am looking forward to this one. Rather than building its own exclusive walled garden, Fitbit is keeping its products affordable and reaching out to the apps, designers and doctors that you, the potential user, already love. As the millions of Fitbit users can attest, maybe the most important piece of fitness equipment is other people.
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