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Fitbit is dead set on taking down the Apple Watch

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor

Fitbit (FIT) is determined to wrestle the smartwatch market away from Apple (AAPL). And to do that, it has introduced its all-new Versa. Available for presale March 13, the $199 Versa smartwatch easily undercuts the more costly Apple Watch, which starts at $249 for the older Series 1 model and jumps to $329 for the current Series 3.

“The launch of Versa at this price point is going to give us a much fuller portfolio that I think better captures the overall opportunity,” explained Fitbit CEO James Park. “But really the purpose of Versa, given its feature set and its price point, is for us to start winning share in the overall wearables category…”

The Versa is Fitbit’s attempt to snatch the smartwatch crown from Apple.
The Versa is Fitbit’s attempt to snatch the smartwatch crown from Apple.

A new smartwatch I actually want to wear

I was able to spend some time with the Versa during a press preview, and was pleasantly surprised by its design and build quality. There’s still a rather thick bezel around the display, especially when compared to the Apple Watch, but it’s certainly the most attractive device Fitbit has built to-date.

Importantly, the Versa feels incredibly lightweight, so you’ll be able to wear a smartwatch without constantly being reminded that you’re wearing a smartwatch. What’s more, it felt exceedingly comfortable strapped to my wrist. I admittedly only wore it for a few minutes, though, so that could change when I eventually keep it on for a number of hours when I test it out for my review.

Accessories for the Versa, like this metal band, range in price from $29 to $99.
Accessories for the Versa, like this metal band, range in price from $29 to $99.

I was particularly impressed with the Versa’s buttons. It sounds like a strange thing to take note of, but when a company puts shoddy buttons on a product, it makes the entire device feel cheap. The buttons on the Versa, though, felt sturdy.

The Versa also marks the debut of Fitbit’s new health dashboard, which provides you with important information including your heart rate, resting heart rate, latest exercise and sleep patterns on the device. Versa will also allow you to send quick reply messages via your Android device. Unfortunately, this won’t work with your iPhone, but the rest of the watch’s other features will.

Versa is also the first device to debut with Fitbit’s new female health tracking feature that will allow women to better track their menstrual cycles and see how it impacts everything from their sleep to their overall energy levels.

Fitbit says the Versa is waterproof, up to 50 meters, can store onboard music and can operate for more than four days on a single charge. The Apple Watch lasts about one day. That’s a heck of a lot of power from a device that costs $199.

Unlike the Apple Watch, though, the Versa doesn’t come with a built-in GPS, instead relying on your smartphone to do that heavy lifting. And while Fitbit has about 550 apps in its app store, the Apple Watch has thousands.

The Versa is surprisingly lightweight.
The Versa is surprisingly lightweight.

For consumers looking for a bit more from their smartwatch, style-wise, Fitbit is offering the Versa Special Edition for $229, which will include a woven band and regular band and feature either a rose gold or charcoal casing. The Special Edition will also support NFC mobile payments, so you can leave your wallet at home during your next run.

Moving up from trackers

Park says that with the smartwatch market growing, the Versa will provide Fitbit with exactly the kind of product it needs to attract users who are thinking of upgrading from their Alta, Alta HR and Charge 2 trackers.

“I think the interesting thing to note is that, you know, the shift is actually good for us, because of the higher MSRP on Versa,” he said. “And so from a financial point of view, it’s going to result in a higher ASP [average selling price].”

Fitbit’s greater focus on the smartwatch market, though, doesn’t mean that it’s moving away from its bread and butter fitness trackers.

Some of the leather bands available for the Versa.
Some of the leather bands available for the Versa.

“I think trackers will continue to be a big fixture in the wearable landscape,” Park explained. “There are a lot of advantages to trackers. They are simpler, easier to understand, they are more wearable in terms of form factor. So our belief is that, with wearables, there is no one size fits all, and so we’re going to continue to deliver the right variety of SKUs at different price points, features sets, battery life, etc.”

The cost of doing business

Device pricing is also increasingly important for Fitbit as it continues to expand into the health care market and works with enterprises looking to provide their employees with trackers to help keep down health care costs.

“Enterprise customers are definitely much more price sensitive in this category, because we’re speaking about distributing millions or tens of millions of devices with either a subsidization or for free, so their price definitely plays a large factor,” Park said.

For a company that’s seen its stock price hover around the $5 to $6 mark since 2017, a new product that can reinvigorate the brand could prove to be hugely beneficial.

I’ll have more on the Versa when I review it in the coming weeks. So stay tuned.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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