Sports brands are giving wearables another shot at success

Fitbit and Adidas are just the latest to reveal a collaboration.

Wearables are only as good as the apps they're compatible with. And companies making health-focused products, like smartwatches, fitness bands and even hybrids of these two, are starting to realize that. But in order to have applications that lure people to your platform, whether you're Apple, Samsung or Fitbit, often it's better if you have a hand in developing them. That's why, especially at IFA 2017, many tech firms are teaming up with brands from different industries to add a new element of usefulness to their wearables. In some cases, that often includes special-edition products created between two companies.

Just days before the trade show here in Berlin began, Fitbit introduced its highly anticipated Ionic smartwatch, featuring a 1.42-inch LCD touchscreen, a new wearable operating system called FitbitOS and the ability to make contactless payments. While those specs are enough to get Fitbit fans excited, the start of a partnership with sportswear giant Adidas was what stood out most. The multiyear deal will see Adidas make an athlete-focused version of the Fitbit Ionic in 2018, which is expected to launch with exclusive content including personal-training programs.

This fresh partnership is interesting for many reasons, the first being that up until a couple of years ago, Adidas was making its own fitness wearables designed to compete with Fitbit's own. With the Fit Smart, launched in 2015, Adidas created a wrist-worn wearable that could measure calories burned, heart rate, running distance, pace and number of steps. Adidas also bought Runtastic in 2015 and, earlier this year said it would shut down its aging fitness platform MiCoach and consolidate it with its new acquisition.

Runtastic's suite of apps, which range from running to nutrition, have been compatible with Fitbit's products for years, and it'll be interesting to see if Adidas turns any of those into something exclusive for Ionic users.

At SXSW 2017, Adidas Head of Digital Sports Stacey Burr told Engadet that her team was working with third parties on "personalized" experiences. "It's not just about, 'Can we develop a new piece of hardware that is a standalone Adidas ecosystem,'" Burr said back then. "You'll be seeing that we'll be opening up a bunch of our content and know-how to other third party devices, and [making] it more of an open-platform scenario so that we can extend onto other people's devices as well."

We now know one of those was Fitbit. The move shouldn't come as a surprise though, because its biggest rival, Nike, has been on a similar route with Apple since the early days of the iPod. Most recently, Apple released a Nike+ edition of its Watch Series 2, which comes with exclusive bands and two special watch faces. An Adidas spokesperson said it was too early to discuss its Fitbit device because it won't be out until next year.

Meanwhile, Samsung took to IFA 2017 to reveal a partnership with Speedo. The collaboration between the South Korean tech titan and the swimwear maker consists of an app for the new Gear Fit Pro 2 and and Gear Sport. With the Speedo application, which will be available exclusively for these new devices, users can track their swimming laps and monitor the time each takes to complete. In addition to that, the app measures your burned calories and distance traveled. Naturally, it will communicate with Samsung's native S Health app, allowing you to easily view your overall fitness data there as well.

Of course, the idea is that swimmers who own a Fit Pro 2 or Sport will want to rely heavily on the Speedo app to keep track of their stats. Not only that, Samsung obviously hopes that those who love the Speedo brand will be enticed by its new products. Then there's the deal Samsung inked with Spotify, which will see the music-streaming service launch its first wearable app on the Gear Fit Pro 2 and Gear Fit. That's a major accomplishment for Samsung, considering Spotify still hasn't officially arrived on the Apple Watch, arguably the most popular smartwatch on the market right now.

These kinds of partnerships aren't just happening in the wearables space. The smartphone world has gadgets like Huawei's P10, created in tandem with Leica. For Huawei, this means having a camera powered by an iconic brand such as Leica on one of its phones, while Leica itself benefits from getting more exposure and exploring an unfamiliar market. The same goes for Fitbit and Adidas, Samsung and Speedo or Nike and Apple. If they can win over and share each other's consumers, they all come out on top. That's magnified further when these companies work on pacts that may be exclusive, even if they are temporary.

Ultimately, as saturated as the wearables market is, anything you can do to make your products stand out from the pack can only be seen as a positive. And if you're a struggling brand like Fitbit, making a special edition of your flagship product with one of the world's most famous brands is, at the very least, a safe bet.

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