Fitbit's Ionic smartwatch suffers from a dearth of apps, we noted in our Engadget review, but the wearable firm is trying to flip that equation with an update to its Fitbit OS. It will bring over 100 new watch faces and 60 apps, including Yelp, Nest, Hue Lights and Flipboard. The most interesting one is Deezer, coming in 2018, as it will run on the Ionic without a smartphone, lightening the load for runners and other athletes. The company also launched Fitbit Labs, a new effort to create apps that motivate athlete behavior changes and accelerate Fitbit's pace of innovation.
The addition of more apps is a big deal for Fitbit, because as of now, the Ionic only supports Pandora, AccuWeather, Starbucks (in North America) and Strava. Along with those already mentioned, apps available today for free download include the female health tracking app Clue, Game Golf's score tracker, which will give precise distances to the green, The New York Times app, TripAdvisor and United Airlines. More are coming in January, including Surfline, British Airways, Lyft and Walgreens.
The lack of music services is a sore point on the Fitbit Ionic, but Deezer will come to the device around the world later in 2018. The main takeaway is that you can listen to music offline and without the need for a phone, presumably on wireless headphones or earbuds like Apple's AirPods. A full feature list isn't available yet, but Deezer says that Premium Plus subscribers will get a personalized music experience and be able to use Flow, which creates a personalized soundtrack using smart data, editorial recommendations and analytics.
Fitbit has occasionally struggled with product and feature design, so Fitbit Labs is an effort to keep its apps, watchfaces and other software features on track. The company is using its savoir faire in data analysis and behavioral sciences "to test potential new features in the form of experimental apps and smart clock faces designed to motivate users and drive behavior change," it wrote. There's also a new SDK for developers.
Fitbit Labs has built a few fanciful apps like Fitbit Pet, that keeps you active by caring for a virtual dog or cat, and Treasure Trek, a gamification app aimed at motivating you toward your step goals. Others include the Mood Log mood tracker, Tennis game-tracking app, and the Think Fast task-switching game that shows how sleep and nutrition impact your mental sharpness. Fitbit Pet is available now, and the other apps are coming by the end of the year.
Other new features include enhanced options for Fitbit Pay and the Fitbit Leaderboard directly on the Ionic watch. The company said it will continue to add new apps and clockfaces "throughout 2018 and beyond."
It's always an uphill battle for an individual manufacturer like Fitbit to get developers on board, considering that they may already be working on Android Wear and watchOS apps. Fitbit is a big enough player in the health and fitness game to make it work, but it'll have to continue to develop and expand Fitbit OS and its Ionic lineup. The new OS and apps, available today for Ionic owners, will likely help that cause.