Fitbit debuts premium fitness and health tracking service as part of turnaround

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Fitbit (FIT) is jumping into the services business. Fitbit Premium, available this fall in the U.S. and launching in other markets next year, will provide users with an array of health data and daily tips to help them manage their weight, sleep, and exercise goals.

Starting at $9.99 per month, or $79.99 for a full year, Fitbit Premium is the culmination of the company’s effort to move away from a revenue stream based solely on devices.

“It’s taken a while for us to get here, because we’ve been talking about the transformation of the company to more services for quite a while now,” Fitbit CEO James Park said during a press preview of Fitbit’s new offerings. “It all started off...with a lot of market research and understanding exactly what our users wanted.”

Fitbit has launched its new Fitbit Premium subscription service aimed at helping uses improve their health and wellness. (Image: Fitbit)

It’s an impressive program for users that could turn around the company’s recent misfortunes, which included a downward revision of its quarterly guidance last quarter. The company’s stock is well off its year-to-date high of $6.87 set in February, and was trading at $2.85 Tuesday afternoon.

Premium makes Fitbit’s long-standing goal a reality

Fitbit has been losing ground in the wearables space to the Apple Watch for some time now, spurring it to move toward a subscription services model to help bolster revenue. Plans for such an offering have been in the works for a while, with Park mentioning the desire to transition to a software business like Fitbit Premium as far back as 2017.

As a software service, Fitbit Premium will continue to evolve over time, Park said, suggesting that what you see at launch won’t necessarily be what you see months or years down the line.

“I would say that it’s the end of the beginning, maybe. We’ve launched it, but it is a software service, so we’re going to be continuously evolving it and improving it over time. And so that’s what I’m excited about. To launch it, see it and hear the feedback from the users, and iterate and improve the service over time.”

The service will give consumers a number of benefits including sleep guidance, guided programs, dynamic workouts, advanced insights, challenges, health reports, and health coaching.

Fitbit Premium's Guided Workouts help users ease into their new workout routines. (Image: Fitbit)

Sleep Guidance, for instance, will provide information about sleep cycles and duration, as well as let users know whether they tend to sleep better after they exercise. A new Smart Wake feature will also wake users up gently depending on their current sleep pattern. So rather than waking them from a deep sleep or REM sleep, the alarm might only go off during light sleep.

Sleep Guidance will provide tips and a checklist designed to help users fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Park said he used Sleep Guidance to help address his own sleep problems. The two-week program, the CEO said, provided him with a reasonable sleep goal and offered him tips for getting ready to go to sleep.

And while the launch of Premium and the work involved in that has pretty much cancelled out any improvements he’d originally seen, Park did explain that he still sticks to the sleep prep tips he received from the service.

Similar guided programs are available across Fitbit Premium to ensure users stick to fitness goals via functions like nudges, tips, and motivational updates.

Fitbit Premium's Wellness Insights give you an idea of how things like your sleep, exercise routine and heart rate impact your health. (Image: Fitbit)

There’s also a Dynamic Workout feature that provides suggested workouts based on current fitness level. If, for instance, somebody wants to build muscle or lose weight, Dynamic Workouts will offer a workout routine to help them do that. Users can then report back on whether the workout was too difficult or too easy, and their future workouts will be altered accordingly.

One of the most interesting features of Fitbit Premium is the ability to pull data from the service and then provide it to doctors to help manage chronic illnesses. Such an option is certain to be helpful for people dealing with issues like diabetes and high blood pressure.

A new Fitbit smartwatch

Although Fitbit is moving toward a service oriented model, it will continue to put out new health and fitness devices. Case in point, later this month, the company is rolling out its new Versa 2 smartwatch.

The Fitbit Versa 2 has an improved AMOLED display, but will still cost just $199. (Image: Dan Howley)

Available Sept.15 for $199, the Versa 2 offers a look that’s similar to the original Versa, but sports a single button on its side, as well as a new AMOLED display. That display is the most welcome addition to the smartwatch, as it offers improved visuals with deeper blacks and more vibrant colors.

The previous generation Versa used an LCD screen that, compared with the AMOLED display on the Apple Watch, looked washed out. I used the Versa 2 during a short press briefing and the panel truly looks much better than its predecessor’s.

Interestingly, Fitbit has also partnered with Amazon (AMZN) to bring the retailer’s Alexa digital assistant to the Versa 2. This is the first major partnership for Amazon in the wearables space, and most of the assistant’s functionality is present.

The only things missing from the Versa 2 are text heavy or video-based responses. A microphone onboard the Versa 2 allows it to listen to user requests. However, since the watch lacks a speaker, it can’t play back responses.

The Fitbit Versa 2's display is the best screen Fitbit has ever produced. (Image: Howley)

Why Alexa on a smartwatch? Fitbit sees it as a tool to do things like ask how many calories are in a particular food, the locations of fitness classes, and what the weather is like along a particular running route.

According to Fitbit, the Versa 2 will last more than five days on a charge and can survive in up to 50 meters of water.

With both Fitbit Premium and the Versa 2 launching this month, it will be interesting to see how the company’s new direction is reflected in its future quarterly earnings reports.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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