The announcement of the Fitbit Surge and Fitbit Charge HR is the first sign that the Californian company is raising the bar when it comes to serious sports.
From last year's basic steps and sleep tracking, the addition of wrist-based continuous heart rate tracking is a big push towards the serious athlete – the ones you see pushing 16 milers on a Saturday morning, covered in gels, straps, sensors and bits of blue tape.
Essential reading: Fitbit Surge price and release date
There’s no doubt the Surge is attempting something fairly new. With its activity tracking heritage and an array of new sensors, Fitbit is finally offering a range features that track your whole day.
It’s trying to bridge the gap between when you’re in workout mode and just walking for a bus; with a five day battery life and a functional design that makes it all seem quite compelling.
Essential reading: Polar M400 review
With its built in optical heart rate monitor, GPS and accelerometer it offers a more holistic overview of all your daily stats, covering everything from your general movement to those times when you’re doing targeted workouts like running or cycling.
Stats like the distance you’ve covered on a run can now be viewed together with how much time you spent sitting inactive at your desk. The ability to track things like pace on a run as readily as how well you’ve slept is truly intriguing for those looking for a one-stop shop for health tracking.
Taking on the elites
So what about the incumbents in the sports space, the more athlete focused Polars and Garmins? Should these guys panic?
They certainly need to pay attention. Panic? No. But they need to be wary.
Both Polar and Garmin spotted these relatively young upstarts encroaching on their space and brought out products that appeal to the less serious fitness crowd, the sofa dwellers and desk jockeys among us. The Polar Loop, the and the Garmin Vivofit have both tried to take a slice of this gluten-free, no-added-sugar, general activity pie with varying success.
Polar has started to build the daily activity tracking into their extremely capable running, cycling and triathlon products. Watches like the M400 and the V800 offer a range of features for the more serious everyday athletes that the likes of Apple, Samsung and Fitbit can’t comprehend, such as cadence, VO2 max and recovery and vertical oscillation.
Big review: Garmin Vivosmart
It’s harder to for the Fitbit Surges of this world to muscle in on the serious world of sports science than it is for Polar to add notifications to their existing products.
Polar, Garmin and even Suunto don't really make mass market products. Sure, they each have entry level devices but their heritage is in performance. They understand athletes and they get training. Fitbit still has a long way to go.
There is a caveat, however. Polar innovated with heart rate tracking with its sensors way back in the 1990s. Its tech has kept them at the forefront of performance sport.
But it has stopped innovating – for mass market hardware, at least. Basis and Fitbit’s optical heart rate tracking accuracy is yet to be tested, but they will get it right eventually.
So the fitness elites don’t need to panic yet, but history doesn’t look kindly on previous tech giants that didn’t raise the bar.
Kieran Alger is Wareable's fitness expert and insane ultra marathon runner. Track his progress as he trains for the Marathon De Sables in the Sahara on his blog.
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