Fitbit wants £8 a month to make your health and fitness data useful

The future of Fitbit is… £7.99 a month. That’s the message from its latest announcement where, alongside a new Versa 2 smartwatch and some budget Aria Air smart scales, Fitbit revealed Fitbit Premium, its new subscription service.

“Fitbit Premium tells you ‘what to do next’ after tracking what you do,” Fitbit CEO James Park says at a pre-launch event in San Francisco. But from what we know so far, Fitbit will struggle to both convert customers into paying subscribers and, more importantly, deliver on its huge promises to motivate real behavioural lifestyle changes. It’s difficult to see how Fitbit will deliver £7.99 a month (or £79.99 a year’s) worth of value.

Fitbit is doing all it can to not only coax new customers but persuade its current users to stay put, especially in these relatively tough times. According to Marketwatch, the firm’s stock fell by more than 25 per cent this month. And if you think that’s bad, Fitbit has burned through almost all (93.5 per cent) of its investors’ wealth in the last four years, which was undoubtedly spent trying to counteract the growing success of the Apple Watch, by far Fitbit’s biggest competitor. The launch of Premium could be a serious make or break effort for the company during these dark times.

So what is it actually pledging to offer? Rolling out this autumn, Fitbit Premium will sit in the existing app. The main objective is to offer personalised suggestions and advice – named Insights here – based on data from activity, sleep and stress tracking, together with manual nutrition and water input. For example, using your food input, the app suggests which provisions you have eaten that might have brought down your Sleep Score, and how a lower Sleep Score might have caused you to feel drowsier or more stressed the following day.

Long term, it’s hoped that this approach will also help to prevent and manage chronic conditions, however because Fitbit can’t give out medical advice, what we’ve seen so far – it should be noted we haven’t tested Fitbit Premium yet – are fairly weak ‘insights’ about sleep and steps, based on its collaborations with its Advisory Panel of academics and scientists.

“The idea is to try and drive behaviour change in all areas of health through sleep, weight loss, mind and nutrition,” Park says, suggesting that there’s currently a void in the market for a device that can do all these things. While it’s true that startups such as Vinaya have tried and failed in bringing together all this data, Oura Ring does already tie in sleep and activity habits in its app in a similar way.

Fitbit Premium, then, will need glowing reviews and word-of-mouth proof that it gets real results for regular people to justify the Netflix-like price of signing up.

It will also have to be a compelling app experience to get users to habitually update their data. Logging all your meals, inputting how much water you’ve drunk and how stressed you are, as well as ensuring you’re wearing your watch or tracker for sleep and exercise is a power-user task in itself. We suspect it’s just not something that most people can realistically keep up with, especially those who aren’t massive fitness buffs already, i.e. the precise audience that the Fitbit app and its devices tend to be aimed at.

The divide is also slightly concerning for people considering buying a Fitbit product and not planning to pay monthly – does this move imply that if you don’t subscribe to Premium, tracking alone isn’t enough to make a lifestyle change? (As has previously been suggested by critics of fitness trackers in general).

The push towards meaningful lifestyle change has been in the pipeline for years, most notably in sleep, but the introduction of a subscription service, and especially at this price, seems more like an attempt to switch to a sustainable, shareholder-friendly business model. “There are currently 14 million people subscribed to health and fitness services in the US, and they’re spending $174 a year on this,” said Park. “This is Fitbit’s opportunity to connect the dots between these services.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Fitbit attempt to build out a fitness subscription service. Premium will be integrating Fitbit Coach, which launched in August 2017 and currently offers personal training tools for users for £29.99 a year. However, the new £79.99-a-year Premium subscription will swallow up Coach as it stands, making it an extra offering inside Premium, not a standalone, considerably cheaper product.

At launch, Premium will include nine guided health and fitness programs based around sleep, activity, meditation and nutrition. Fitbit has also partnered with Headspace, Daily Burn and Yoga Studio to bring third-party “fitness content” around at-home HIIT, meditation and yoga into the app, which will be updated on a monthly basis with new workouts. Elsewhere, there’s a ‘wellness report’ that can be shared with your GP, nutritionist or personal trainer as well as personalised Premium Challenges with more of an all-round health focus than the fitness Challenges Fitbit users are used to.

All told, this feature set doesn’t compare particularly favourably when put next to rivals, especially considering that Apple doesn’t charge for its Apple Health offering – yet. There’s a free trial for Fitbit users, but only for seven days before payment kicks in.

Compared to similar existing subscriptions from competitors, Fitbit’s is one of the most pricey. Strava’s premium offering, Summit, will set you back just £47.99 per year (or £6.99 per month), for example, and gives you deeper analysis of training data alongside access to professional advice.

Strava and Fitbit both have wide customer bases, but they are not direct rivals. Thanks to its widespread brand recognition across mass markets, it’s possible that Fitbit could have the power to make a big impact in this area. Sadly its efforts so far suggest that it won’t be capable of converting its customers to subscribers. While popular with some users, Fitbit Coach never really took off and it would not be unwise expect the same to happen here. A portion of Fitbit owners claim to love Coach and to use it instead of going to the gym, but it’s unlikely this will extend to paying more than double now that Coach is part of Premium.

The Fitbit Premium service was launched alongside two physical devices: some affordable smart scales called the Aria Air (which cost £49) and yet another update to its mid-range smartwatch series in the form of the Versa 2, which will cost £199.95 when it launches in mid-September. As you’d expect, data captured from both will be synced with the Fitbit app and Fitbit Premium.

Improving on the original Versa which was announced around 18 months ago, the latest watch includes Alexa integration and a battery life of over five days (versus the previous four). Upon first glance, the still stylish Fitbit Versa 2 is pretty much identical to the original Versa except now things look slightly more minimal and sleek. There’s only the one button on the left-hand side now and the bezels have been reduced slightly.

Despite its legacy in wearable tech, Fitbit knows that there’s stiff competition when it comes to fitness wearables with the likes of Apple at the lifestyle and luxury end, and Polar and Garmin at the enthusiast end offering similar – if not better – hardware for people serious about their health.

As a player, and still a shorthand, in mass-market fitness watches and trackers, though, Fitbit’s new Premium service is at least one way for the brand to differentiate itself from its rivals: offering the ‘average Joe’ the promise of a leg up the fitness ladder. It is also, no doubt, designed to convert new Fitbit owners into dedicated and loyal Fitbit users. Whether non-enthusiasts are willing to pay £80 a year for its insights though, remains to be seen.

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