Fitbit thinks it's finally worked out its annoyances that plagued previous designs and claims it has a smartwatch for every pricepoint

Long before the smartwatch craze was in full effect, Fitbit Inc. was demoing its titular pocket clip-on wearable at the 2008 Techcrunch50 conference.  Now six years later it's become a juggernaut of the wearable's market.  And if today's announcement is any indication, it's not about to go quietly even as Apple, Inc. (AAPL) hungrily eyes the wearables market.

I. FitBit is Back in Charge

Judges at the event were impressed by its pitch of "self-surveillance" -- 24 hour monitoring to track your level of physical activity in an effort to help you get (and stay) fit.  The device at the time packed a 10-day battery life -- pretty solid for a smartwatch or smartband.

Fast forward six years later and the San Fracisco, Calif.-based startup has plenty of bragging rights, in spite of recent hiccups.  Although a costly recall marred its image slightly in a fiercely competitive wearables market, Fitbit has diversifed into "smart bands" for workouts and is the top player in the segment.

Now it's back and looking as aggressive as ever with a trio of designs boasting solid basic features, a focus on athletics, and a very impressive battery life.

Fitbit new models

Its new models include:
  • Charge
    • "fitness super watch"
    • $129 USD
    • "Reinvented" materials design (to eliminate skin irritation)
    • Eight sensors (gyrometer, accelerometers, etc.)
    • Warns of incoming calls (Bluetooth 4.0 LE)
    • Interfaces with standard tracking app
      • Tracks steps, athletics, and your sleeping patterns
    • 7 day battery life
    • Available now

  • Charge HR ("heart rate")
    • $149 USD
    • Same capabilities as base Charge
    • Basic heart rate monitor sensor
    • 5 day battery life (due to the extra sensor draining battery)
    • Available early 2015

  • Surge
    • $249 USD
    • Same sensors as Surge, plus...
    • Low-power GPS
    • OLED touchscreen display
    • music controls
    • text notifications and richer call notifications
    • 7-day battery life
    • Available in early 2015

The new units look impressive, particularly in the battery life department.  We would expect nothing less from Fitbit given its track record.  Nonetheless, expect the pressure to be on the wearables startup as it looks to avoid another costly slip as its last generation band, the FitBit Force saw.

II. Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown

In spite of the stormy happenings at times in 2014, this year has been a watershed one for the startup, as were the two years before it.  Company founders James Park and Eric Friedman have succeeded in making their vision a commercial reality.

What's more, they're not only competing -- they're dominating the wearables market.

It all began with the launch of the Fitbit Tracker in 2008.  The device began turning heads in serious fashion after it won finalist honors at the 2008 Techcrunch50 competition/conference.  Similar in some regards to Nike Inc.'s (NKE) Apple-exclusive shoe clip-on, "Nike+iPod", the device drew rave reviews for its lack of platform dependence, and natural ability to squeeze into something most of us wear (pasts).
Fitbit Tracker
The original Fitbit Tracker kicked things off in style, in 2008.

It was followed in 2011 by the Fitbit Ultra and in 2012 by the Fitbit One, which added Bluetooth syncing.  But where things really took off was when it entered the band-style wearables market in May 2013, with the Fitbit Flex.  Between the Flex and its more smartwatch-esque followup, the Fitbit Force (announced: Oct. 2013), Fitibit rocketed out of nowhere to dominate this relatively new market, thanks in part ot its popular one-stop software, which includes a cloud-hosted fitness tracking portal.
Fitbit Flex
The Fitbit Flex, Fitbit's first band-style wearable, launched in 2012

Its products are sold at 15,000+ stores in the U.S. and it's vying with Nike, Apple, and Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930)(KRX:005935) for sports wearable dominance.

And recent evidence points that Fitbit is well ahead of the cadre of similar privately held challengers following in its wake.  While Jawbone (maker of the "Up"), Intel Corp.'s (INTC) Basis subsidiary (maker of the Basis Peak), Issy les Moulineaux, France-based Withings (privately held; makers of the Withings Pulse), and Misfit Wearables (maker of the Misfit Shine and Flash; led by CEO John Sculley -- yes, that John Sculley) all can only wish they had Fitbit's sales success.

Fitbit $43M USD Series D venture capital round in Aug. 2013.  The latest cash haul was outed in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing.  Investors in the round included the venture capital wing of chipmaker Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) and Japanese telecom superpower Softbank Corp. (TYO:9984).

The company had previously announced in the Spring that it was seeking $30M USD for a $300M USD valuation.  Given the final total, Fitbit could be worth a cool half a billion dollars or more.

Its followup, the Fitbit Force was announced Oct. 2013, at a slightly higher price of $130 USD.  The new model added smartwatch-like features, including an OLED time readout and the ability to print stats directly before relaying them to your computer via Bluetooth 4.0 LE.  True to its history battery life and durability were strong points, with the waterproof band boasting ten hours on a charge.
Fitbit Force
The Fitbit Force looked impressive at $130 USD, but suffered an embarassing health-risk related recall, relating to skin irritation from the polymers used.

But trouble struck in Jan. 2014 when reports of user skin irritation with the Fitbit Force grew.  In Feb. of this year Fitbit announced a voluntary recall.  Testing by the wearable maker revealed that its materials were causing some users to experience contact allergic contact dermatitis.  That's a rash similar to what some get from brushing a poison oak plant.

Yet, despite that hiccup Fitbit still managed to score roughly half the global shipments in Q1 2014, according to market research firm Canalys.  That works out out roughly 1.3 million units sold worldwide.  Fitbit remained firmly in first place at the end of H1 2014, according to Canalys, as Jawbone surged to second.  Others -- including Nike and Pebble Technology Corp. -- have fallen behind.  (Or in Nike's case, it's abandoned ship altogether, as far as smartwatches/smartbands are concerned.)  That's great news for Fitbit as the segment that saw sales grow 684 percent to  to over 6 million smart and "basic" wearable bands shipped in H1.

Still, the pressure will be on Fitbit to maintain that lead in the challenging and ever-evolving segment.

Looming ahead in 2015, the biggest threat is likely Apple who is marketing its Apple Watch as a workout device.  Last week RE/Code reported that sources at Apple revealed that it is preparing to blacklist its soon-to-be-competitor.  A ban from Apple Stores would remove one major retail presence for Fitbit, but it still has partnerships with, Inc. (AMZN), Best Buy Comp., Inc. (BBY), Macy's, Inc.'s (M) Bloomingdale's, Kohl's Corp. (KSS), Target Corp. (TGT), and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT).

FitBit, seen here at a Best Buy endcap, is sold at almost every major electronics retailer in the U.S.
[Image Source: Mirrius]

According to the report Apple isn't necessarily picking on Fitbit; it's considering blacklisting other competitors such as long time partner Nike, as well.

Source: Fitbit

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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