5 things Fitbit still needs to get ready before the Ionic launch

Time is ticking pre-October release
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Fitbit's first smartwatch is official and if you haven't done already, you can read what we think about the Fitbit Ionic having spent some decent workout time with it.

The Apple Watch rival is launching in October and while we're a bit underwhelmed by its Fitbit Blaze-inspired design, there are plenty of other reasons to be optimistic about Fitbit's smartwatch debut.

Read this: Fitbit Ionic v Apple Watch Series 2

The Ionic will come packed with features, but some of those features still feel like they are a work in progress or at least will need fine-tuning before they hit the shelves.

From Fitbit Pay to the new coaching modes, here's a few things the Ionic needs to address ahead of the big launch.

Offline music for all

5 things Fitbit still needs to get ready before the Ionic launch

The Ionic will offer offline music playback just like the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear and Android Wear smartwatches, which is good to hear. What's not good to hear is that it will be only available through music service Pandora. If you live in the US, then you're fine, if you don't, then this is a bit concerning with a launch just a couple of months away.

We already know about the rumours that in the early stages of development for the Ionic, Fitbit had tried to partner with Spotify, which would have been the ideal solution. Since then, the music streaming giant has unlocked a similar feature for Samsung's Gear S3 smartwatch and it looks likely to be available on the upcoming Gear Sport and Gear Fit2 Pro wearables.

So what does that mean for Ionic owners leaving outside of the US? Apparently Fitbit is in discussions to offer offline playback from 'multiple services' but it is disappointing that this hasn't already been finalised so close to launch.

The complete coaching experience

5 things Fitbit still needs to get ready before the Ionic launch

Along with new hardware, Fitbit has gone big with new software as well including the new Coach personal training app. If you need a reminder, this is where you will be able to tap into personalised and adaptive training plans to help you on your road to fitness. It's like Fitstar but on steroids.

There are a couple of features announced that we will need to wait to roll out before we get the complete experience though. The first is audio coaching taking you away from your smartphone or tablet screen and bringing those new Flyer Bluetooth headphones into the equation. Fitbit is promising on-screen workouts to complete that screen-liberating experience but that's been tagged as 'Coming soon' too.

Ramp up app support

5 things Fitbit still needs to get ready before the Ionic launch

CEO James Park promised us an app store and it's happening, it just won't be awash with hundreds or thousands of apps to download to the smartwatch. Yet. We know that there will definitely be four (yes, four) third party apps at launch available in the Fitbit Gallery and they are Starbucks, Strava, Accuweather and Pandora for that offline music playback support. Adidas All Day, Flipboard, GAME GOLF, Nest and Surfline are among the apps that will arrive later in the fall. Some big names certainly, but that's not a whole lot even when combined with Fitbit's own native applications.

Park has promised that more big-name apps will come before the end of the year and releasing the SDK will also help that number rise. Notification support will extend to third party apps like Gmail and Facebook from the off so that's good news, but a few developers we've spoken to have questioned whether Fitbit can create a platform that will entice developers to build apps for the Ionic and future Fitbit smartwatches.

We've already seen that Samsung has found it tough to up the numbers for its Galaxy App Store, while Misfit abandoned the idea to build its own OS and app platform for its Vapor smartwatch opting for Android Wear instead. We hope Fitbit can prove us wrong and put that inherited Pebble expertise to good use.

Fitbit Pay for all

5 things Fitbit still needs to get ready before the Ionic launch

As we found out with Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay, it can take some time to get mobile payment services rolled out globally and we envisage that it's going to be a similar story for Fitbit Pay.

What we know so far is that American Express, Mastercard and Visa cards are eligible for Fitbit Pay. A host of banks will offer support as well and they include ANZ, Banco Santander, Bank of America, Capital One, HSBC, KBC Bank Ireland, OCBC Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, UOB and US Bank. Fitbit says more countries and banks will be added soon.

What that tells us is that while the Pay will be available around the world, folks in the US will be the first to benefit from a well supported mobile payment service and it could take a bit more time to make the rollout as seamless in other territories.

Up the auto-tracking

5 things Fitbit still needs to get ready before the Ionic launch

Fitbit has confirmed that the Ionic will be able to automatically detect when you're out for a run, but that's as far as the auto-detection smarts will go for now. Despite swim tracking being added into the mix, you will still need to activate swim mode to monitor your activity in the pool.

While Fitbit's SmartTrack tech will automatically recognise a range of activities, it only provides data on how active you were, record calories burned and store heart rate zone info. But things could get a lot smarter and insightful. Fitbit has told us that it is prototyping auto-detection for a greater range of workouts that include boxing, weight lifting and basketball to offer more detailed metrics. Whether that's in the immediate or distant future for the Ionic, we hope it's the former rather than the latter.

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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