Hoping to revive investors' and consumers' confidence, Fitbit has unveiled a new fitness-tracking band CEO James Park calls its "most fashionable device yet." The $130 Alta represents Fitbit's most aggressive bid so far at luring the fashion-minded consumers that have eluded many of its competitors—and Fitbit itself.
Fitbit is having a difficult year. Though it remains the No. 1 seller of wearable devices in the world, the company's stock price has plummeted nearly 50% in the last month, following a series of unfortunately timed events at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early January.
First, Fitbit introduced its latest accessory, dubbed the Blaze, which looks like a smartwatch but is really a fitness-tracking device dressed up as one. Analysts and journalists were unimpressed, arguing that the $200 price tag is too high given its looks and its limited feature set—it doesn't, for one thing, run any third-party apps—and that it's more likely to eat away at sales of its Surge tracker than bolster the bottom line. That same day, the company was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging that the heart rate monitors in two of its devices fail to take accurate measurements. Adding to the company's woes was the unveiling of Under Armour's own suite of fitness-tracking devices, including a slick-looking fitness band, movement-tracking sneakers, and a wireless scale, all of which could pose serious competition to Fitbit's products and marketshare.
With the Alta, Fitbit has created a slim, sleek, comfortable-to-wear fitness tracker, with a stainless steel body and interchangeable wrist bands; it could easily be mistaken for a modernist cuff bracelet. (Personally, it's not so attractive that I would wear it if it weren't a fitness device, but it's innocuous enough that I wouldn't mind wearing it on a day-to-day basis, and that's an improvement.) Like the Apple Watch, bands can be purchased in multiple colors and materials designed to take the wearer from day to night: there are rubbery straps for the gym, soft leather versions for work and polished metal bands for a night out.
Fitbit has three categories of fitness trackers—everyday wear, active, and performance—and the Alta fits in the first of these. With a few taps on the OLED display, it will show you steps taken, miles walked, calories burned and time spent exercising. You can also view this data, as well as track your sleep and log your calories consumed, on the accompanying Fitbit app for iPhone, Android or Windows. Unlike some of the pricier models, it lacks a heart rate monitor and GPS chip, but it does alert you to new text messages and recognizes when you've been exercising for more than 15 minutes—two things Fitbit's existing $130 model, the Charge, doesn't do. The company promises the battery will last for up to five days; that's much better than the 18 hours or so you'll get with an Apple Watch, but relatively standard among other fitness trackers.
The Alta's real draw is the design—a pain point for many of Fitbit's existing devices. I know several fashion editors who are devoted Fitbit wearers; they all, without exception, have complained about the looks of their particular devices at one point or another. I asked a former colleague, Cheryl, who traded in her Fitbit Flex for a Mira some time ago, if she would switch back to the Fitbit if the company offered a more attractive-looking version. Her answer was an emphatic yes.
Fitbit is certainly working to position Alta as a fashion accessory. The device, which is on pre-sale now and will arrive in U.S. stores next month, is set to appear on the runway of a high-profile show at New York Fashion Week later this month, and the company is once again partnering with Tory Burch to create her own edition. Individuals from the fashion world, including stylists Mary Alice Stephenson and Anita Patrickson, have signed on as brand ambassadors. Beyond that, "we're going to have seasonal releases to be in better alignment with fashion and what's trending," says Tim Rosa, Fitbit's vice president of global marketing. Fitbit will also be advertising in Vogue and other fashion publications it hasn't appeared in previously. "It wasn't right before," Rosa explains. "There's a new audience we can speak to now."
Will this be enough to flip Fitbit's stock chart? I wouldn't bet on it. The Alta is not, as they say, a "game-changing" product. But it is one of the best-looking fitness bands on the market, and that's an accomplishment—one likely to generate some demand among those who were previously deterred from fitness trackers because of their looks. That, in combination with the partnerships in place, should expose the company to a new type of consumer: the kind who reads Vogue and Man Repeller, and puts thought into what she has stacked on her wrist.