Product render of Fitbit Versa 2 inbox and Special Edition family.

Fitbit’s latest tech sports an interesting twist: The Versa 2 smartwatch, unveiled Wednesday, will arrive in stores on Sept. 15 with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant on board.

The $200 wearable device improves on its predecessor with an upgraded display, faster chip, longer battery life and Spotify installed out-of-the-box. Like the previous unit, the Versa 2 is also water-resistant up to 50 meters.

“At Fitbit, we believe that health belongs to everyone and that people should not be priced out of having access to devices and features that can help them improve their health. That’s why we’ve designed Versa 2 to be a premium, full-featured and easy-to-use smartwatch at an accessible price point,” said James Park, Fitbit cofounder and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Some of the compromises do seem evident, with no onboard GPS and advanced heart-tracking features, such as echocardiogram. But the device includes a new Sleep Score function for sleep-tracking, and the features won’t be limited to just Versa 2 owners.

The head-turning aspect, though, is the choice of integrating Amazon’s voice assistant.

The voice competition — long at play on smartphones, smart speakers, headphones, televisions and other home appliances — extended to the wrist, thanks to assistants like Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby and, of course, Google Assistant via Wear OS. The latter has been the most popular voice option for third-party smartwatches, as the army of Wear OS watches continues to mount.

Amazon’s release last year of a mobile accessory development kit intended to change the calculus. The kit was designed for lighter-weight devices with lower processing power, like headphones, smart glasses and other wearables.

As smartwatches go, the Versa 2 is not the first wrist gadget to support Alexa, but those efforts have been primarily from smaller outfits or start-ups.

Fitbit, by contrast, is one of the market’s leading smartwatch makers. Now, in addition to the exercise and wellness tracking that the company’s known for, its new device can reportedly turn on smart lights, offer weather forecasts, search nearby gyms and other businesses, play music off an Amazon Echo speaker and more.

The action doesn’t seem like a dumbed-down version of Alexa, but rather a wrist-based, voice-activated command center for the Amazon ecosystem. The one thing the unit lacks is a speaker, which effectively renders Alexa mute. In practical reality, that means responses show up on the display. With paired Android phones, the assistant can also respond to texts by voice.

Such features may seem less extraordinary as smartwatches and features continue to advance. But considering previous Fitbits eschewed microphones and voice assistants, this could feel like a big step forward for existing Fitbit users.

The company also took the wraps off Fitbit Premium, a subscription coaching and guidance service priced at $80 a year, as well as a new $50 Aria Air, a smart scale capable of drilling beyond weight-to-bosy-mass index.

It appears that high smartwatch season is well under way. Google and Fossil’s relationship recently yielded a fifth-generation smartwatch, even as the companies work on some sort of new wearables platform. Samsung, which introduced a new Galaxy Watch Active 2 earlier this month, is expected to showcase another smartwatch in September.

Meanwhile, expectations remain high that Apple will reveal its next-generation Apple Watch soon. It’s not clear how much Siri will factor into that event, considering the assistant’s recent p.r. trouble, following accounts that Apple allowed contractors to listen to recorded voice commands.

In a blog post on Wednesday, the iPhone maker apologized and promised to change user permissions to opt-in, rather than a default setting. And, it added, those who allow human review — to improve the quality and accuracy of Siri commands — can rest assured that only staffers will listen to the recordings.

Amazon, which also allows people to review recordings to improve accuracy, allows users to opt-out of its privacy settings site.

It’s not yet clear whether such revelations will help competing voice platforms, or reduce confidence in such technologies as a whole. But as voice features spread to the quantified health and fitness realm, moving to other parts of a consumer’s life (and bodies), quantifying privacy will become just as important.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus