Lauren Goode

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Amid Increasing Competition, Fitbit Scores $12 Million in Funding

Fitbit Inc., maker of a popular fitness device that clips to clothing and tracks users’ activity levels, has raised $12 million in Series C funding.

The new round comes entirely from existing investors Foundry Group, True Ventures, SoftTech VC and Felicis Ventures.

The company said it plans to use the funding mainly for hiring and for aggressive product development. Fitbit declined to elaborate further on what type of new product or products it has up its sleeve, except to say that it is now looking ahead to other connected and affordable health-and-fitness devices for the year, and is hiring top engineers to get the company there.

But Fitbit’s next steps — no pun intended — probably need to be very strategic ones.

The funding round comes amid increasing competition from other makers of wear-’em-and-forget-’em data-tracking devices. While Fitbit has been a leader in this area of health-and-fitness tracking, Jawbone, a maker of audio products, launched the $99 UP wristband tracker late last year, which was initially received with enthusiasm. And Nike just introduced its version of a polymer-encased wristband, the FuelBand.

The Jawbone UP has since suffered technical difficulties, forcing the company to refund unhappy customers and temporarily pause production.

But with the $149 FuelBand, Nike has brought big-brand cachet to activity tracking. And Nike isn’t just targeting the serious athlete or runner anymore — it’s going after the casual athlete and the desk jockey, too.

While some fitness devices involve the use of pedometers, accelerometers or galvanic skin-response sensors, Nike’s band promises to combine oxygen uptake with the activity tracked through the device’s tri-axis accelerometer for a high-tech reading. To be fair, it’s not entirely clear yet how that differentiates the FuelBand, and we won’t be able to gauge how well it works until we can get our hands on one and test it.

The Fitbit also uses a three-dimensional accelerometer to measure users’ steps and activity levels. When the $100 Fitbit device launched in 2008, it punched up the idea of the average pedometer, and offered hassle-free, wireless uploading of 24-7 personal analytics and activity data. Fitbit also created a Web dashboard through which users can monitor their activity levels; for $50 a year, Fitbit users can view even more detailed analytics.

In October 2011, the company introduced the Fitbit Ultra, which added a digital clock, a stopwatch and an altimeter that measures elevation gain; a Fitbit iPhone app was launched, too.

San Francisco-based Fitbit, which recently started selling Fitbits in Canada and the U.K., declined to say how many units have been sold to date. In the U.S., the Fitbit recently became available in Target stores through a retail partnership.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Fitbit also unveiled the Fitbit Aria, a Wi-Fi-enabled “smart” scale, as Forbes reported here. The company plans to ship the scale starting in April.

(Fitbit photo courtesy of Redefinery/Flickr)

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald