Today was a busy day for San Francisco based Fitbit. The company announced three new fitness activity trackers – the Charge, Charge HR and Surge – all of which will be their next generation of activity trackers. All three look really impressive and will offer different levels of tracking based on your needs as a user and all three have multiple days of activity between charges which, particularly in the case of the Smartwatch-esque Surge, is important.
Along with this was the announcement from Fitbit and Microsoft of the new Windows Phone app which I highlighted earlier in a post. That update brings a lot of improvements and enhancements, particularly around SensorCore and Cortana support. It is the first one of those that is interesting in light of the recent decisions that Fitbit has made around iOS. It also makes me think that Fitbit is making a bet that Windows Phone, as a platform, is going to take off.
Let me lay a little bit of foundation for those who haven’t kept up with the state of affairs in iOS from Apple. With the release of iOS 8, Apple introduced Health Kit, an aggregation app if you will that allows you to pull information from the M7/8 motion processor built into the iPhone 5s/6/6 Plus. It also allows for integration of information from 3rd party apps such as MyFitnessPal and Jawbone’s Up. It’s this last part that is interesting as Fitbit stated multiple times in their user forums that they have no plans to integrate into Health Kit. Why is that interesting? Because during the keynote introducing Health Kit, Fitbit was the first shown. It seemed, by association, that Fitbit would be tied to Health Kit. In fact, the link to the user forums above were updated on October 8th with additional confirmation Health Kit integration, for now, won’t be happening.
So that makes the integration with Windows Phone and SensorCore very interesting because it effectively is saying no to iOS and yes to Windows Phone.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, SensorCore is part of Windows Phone 8.1 stack that allows for applications to be written to access the data to track activities like steps and running. The best explanation of it can be found here on the Nokia Conversations site but here is a breakdown of it:
On the hardware side, it’s a physical buffer between the sensors already present on your phone, such as GPS, compass, and accelerometer, and the applications programmed to make use of the sensors.
For these sensors to run almost continuously throughout the day, they need to run on very little power and therefore a new software solution was created that could handle such a small amount of power.
While it’s the sensors alone that register movement, those motions are captured and turned into data using software.
That data, through the SensorCore SDK, is used by apps to present information from the sensors. Clear as mud so far? Good.
At the core, pardon the pun, this is exactly what Health Kit and the Motion Processor are doing for iOS. It is taking data from a chip in the device and translating that to an app via a API.
So this begs the obvious question in the case of Fitbit: Why not support Health Kit and why, less than a month later, support Windows Phone?
I think it comes down to two potential answers. First, the flexibility of working with Microsoft over Apple. Apple is very rigid in what you can do with the Health Kit API and it could be simply a case of what Fitbit wants to do and the user experience they want to achieve simply isn’t possible with Apple. Equally, integration with Siri is limited for the same reason. This, in my mind, is the likely scenario but I’m not a developer so I could be totally out of my depth here on this reason.
The second reason could simply be that Fitbit is making a calculated bet. There is little argument that Windows Phone sales are growing – slowly but growing. Fitbit, who clearly has a solid relationship with Microsoft, could simply be putting a bit more emphasis on Windows Phone as a path to future success. Why? It could be as simple as the market is saturated in iOS and clearly the need for integration to trackers like Fitbit remains on Windows Phone. They, fundamentally, are first to market. In business terms, that’s a good thing.
And don’t underestimate the importance of the Fitbit and Microsoft relationship. There have been and continue to be Windows Phone and Fitbit joint promotions in the market where you buy a Windows Phone and get a Fitbit free or for low cost.
Regardless of the reason, Windows Phone fans should take notice. For once, it appears we may be the preferred platform.
Thank you Fitbit.