One of the biggest battles of the holiday season is about to begin. Fitbit Inc (NYSE:FIT) has finally unveiled the Fitbit Ionic — the company’s first smartwatch. It will compete head-to-head against the Apple Watch as FIT stock looks to recover from the battering it has suffered at the hands of Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) smartwatch.
The long-time leader in wearable devices has struggled as consumers opt for the Apple Watch over its high-end fitness trackers, while China’s Xiaomi eats away at market share with its cheap trackers. Knocked down to third place in wearable sales, with no real answer to the Apple Watch, FIT stock has spent much of 2017 down over 90% from its 2015 height.
FIT stock got a nice bump when the Fitbit Ionic was officially announced, but is that a blip — or the start of a trend? The answer depends on how well the Ionic does against the Apple Watch.
We won’t know that until the holiday sales are tallied, but now that the Fitbit Ionic is official, we can at least look at the two smartwatch competitors side by side and try to pick a winner.
Fitbit Ionic vs. Apple Watch: Fitness Tracking
Fitbit has a stellar reputation for fitness tracking and the company has made sure its first smartwatch reflects that pedigree.
The Fitbit Ionic has an improved PurePulse heart rate monitor, plus a new tri-wave sensor for detecting blood oxygen levels — a capability the Apple Watch lacks.
The smartwatch automatically detects if the wearer is running, offers a built-in GPS to track distance without a smartphone and tracks sleep as well. Fitbit’s mobile app is also the best in the business.
As a smartwatch aimed at the health and fitness crowd, the Fitbit Ionic has what it takes to more than hold its own against the Apple Watch.
Fitbit Ionic vs. Apple Watch: Apps, Notifications & Payments
A big part of the Apple Watch appeal is its ability to run third-party apps. In response, trying to integrate apps and attract developers was a big reason why FIT bought the IP of smartwatch pioneer Pebble last year.
However, only a handful of third party apps have been announced for the Fitbit Ionic launch. In comparison, the Apple Watch launched with 3,000 apps and added over 5,000 more within its first three months.
FIT is offering Pandora Media Inc (NYSE:P) support out of the gate (including the ability to store downloaded Pandora tracks), combating the Apple Watch advantage of offline Apple Music compatibility.
While the Ionic will be able to display notifications, because it isn’t integrated with a smartphone operating system, users won’t be able to interact with most of those notifications — unlike the Apple Watch, where they can respond to text, take a phone call or speak with Siri.
Fitbit is taking on the Apple Watch and Apple Pay with contactless NFC payment. The company says Fitbit Pay has already signed up the big three credit card companies.
Overall, the Apple Watch is going to be tough to unseat in these areas.
Fitbit Ionic vs. Apple Watch: Design and Accessories
Design and third party accessories have always been an Apple strength and the Apple Watch has a real advantage here.
The Apple Watch design and choice of case materials give it a leg up on the Ionic, which still retains some of its fitness tracker looks. It has been described as “functional, but … clearly designed for fitness first,” potentially limiting its appeal. The Apple Watch on the other hand, is successfully marketed as a stylish accessory.
And while FIT is offering a selection of sport, leather and classic bands to change up the Ionic’s look, Apple sells dozens of different Apple Watch bands and third party manufacturers offers hundreds (if not thousands) of options.
Fitbit Ionic vs. Apple Watch: Battery Life
If there’s a single potentially game-changing advantage the Fitbit Ionic holds over the Apple Watch, it’s battery life.
Miserable battery life is a big reason why many consumers have held off on buying a smartwatch. It’s a big factor for why Apple hasn’t really pushed sleep tracking on the Apple Watch (most people charge the device at night).
Apple claims 18-hour battery life for the Apple Watch — basically a single day of use. FIT says the Fitbit Ionic will last for more than four days on a charge. If it lives up to claims, the Ionic will smoke the Apple Watch in this capability.
Fitbit Ionic vs. Apple Watch: Price
FIT is taking a risk with the pricing of its smartwatch. The Fitbit Ionic retails for $299.95, which makes it $70 less than the Apple Watch Series 2. However, that price is $30 higher than the still capable, original Apple Watch Series 1.
There’s a real possibility that consumers shopping for a smartwatch will choose that original Apple Watch over the Ionic. It has the recognition, the accessories, the apps, an identical appearance to the newest Apple Watch — and it’s cheaper than the Fitbit Ionic.
The biggest threat to Fitbit’s ambitions may still be around the corner, though. AAPL is expected to debut the Apple Watch Series 3 in September. If so, the combination of new features (including the rumor of cellular connectivity) combined with what would likely be price cuts for the Series 2 could spell trouble for FIT stock.
Which smartwatch is best? Consumers will be voting with their wallets this holiday season. Stay tuned, because this one could get interesting.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.