Bonnie Cha

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Fitbit Force Steps It Up With Built-in Altimeter, iOS 7 Phone Notifications

After last week’s leak, it’s not much of a surprise, but today, Fitbit officially announced its latest activity-tracking wristband, the Fitbit Force.

The Fitbit Force offers all of the same features of the company’s first wristband, the Fitbit Flex, which was released only six months ago, and adds a built-in altimeter to record how many floors you’ve climbed each day. It also has a new “Active Minutes” feature that tracks moderate or high-intensity cardio exercise. And it now doubles as a watch.

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The design is very similar to the Fitbit Flex, but it’s about a tenth of an inch wider, and has a slightly larger OLED display and a physical button to help cycle through your various stats. The Fitbit Force costs $129.95, and will be available in three to four weeks at various retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy and Target.

According to Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park, all of the new features are things customers asked for, but there’s one function that the company added on its own.

Soon after launch, Fitbit will release a software update that will allow iPhone users running iOS 7 to receive notifications about incoming calls (name and phone number) on the Force’s display. The wristband can also vibrate to alert you to a call.

Including this feature is sort of an experiment for Fitbit to gauge people’s interest in getting these types of alerts on a fitness-tracking device. Based on the reaction, the company will then decide whether adding other notifications for things like new text messages and email makes sense.

“For us, the challenge has been to not include a lot of stuff in our devices,” Park said in an interview with AllThingsD. “It’s always a tough discipline to do that, but I think we’re happy with what’s in the device today.”

Park added that Fitbit’s core mission remains providing customers with simple-to-use products to help them get healthier, and that this singular focus is what differentiates the company’s products from smartwatches and competitors like Jawbone. (My colleague Lauren Goode has a good comparison of many different fitness trackers here.)

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He also said that giving customers a choice in design is important because wearable technology is not a “one size fits all” business. In addition to wristbands, the company offers the Fitbit One and Fitbit Flex, both of which can clip onto your clothes.

When I asked him if Fitbit was exploring any other form factors, Park declined to comment, but said he finds the glasses category really interesting. He also added that there’s an opportunity to do more with the data collected by wearable devices.

“We probably have one of the largest personal biometric databases in the world around health and fitness, but we’re very careful about people’s privacy, so it definitely limits us in terms of what we can do with the data,” said Park. “But I think there’s a lot of opportunity to develop sophisticated analytics on top of it that really give people insight into how they spend their day and how they can improve their health, so we have a pretty big R&D team that’s looking at that stuff.”

Fitbit recently received $43 million in Series D funding, and said it would use the money to hire more people and build additional products.


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