New Fitbit OS Introduces Google Assistant and Makes Alexa Audible on Smartwatches
Google Assistant is now accessible through the Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 smartwatches. The voice assistant arrives right around when Fitbit said it would when the two smartwatches debuted in August. This is the first time Google Assistant has been incorporated into Fitbit devices; something anticipated ever since Google started acquiring Fitbit for $1.2 billion in November. Amazon Alexa will still be a voice assistant option as it has since the smartwatches rolled out, and in fact, has been upgraded to be able to communicate with a wearer audibly, not just by text as had been the case until now.
The small speaker in the Versa 3 and Sense smartwatches made it clear right away that vocal interaction with the voice assistants was going to be a feature. But, like Google Assistant, that wasn’t an option at first. Now, both voice assistants can listen and respond to voice commands, awakened by tapping a button on the watch. Along with activating features on the watch itself, Google Assistant and Alexa can connect to smart home devices and otherwise operate like miniature smart displays. The smartwatches can also connect to the wearer’s smartphone with Bluetooth to make and receive phone calls. The smartwatches become the kind of wrist phone to make Dick Tracy green with envy, although the microphone and speaker’s size makes long conversations probably uncomfortable.
The voice assistants aren’t the only upgrade for the smartwatches. The blood oxygen tracking offered by both the Versa 3 and the Sense is now automatic. Instead of having to set up a specific watch face at night to track it, the watch will measure the blood oxygen level in the background. That measurement is a major selling point for the smartwatches, with more than a million downloads of the until-now mandatory clockface from Fitbit’s app gallery. Making it easier to keep running without extra steps is a small, but potentially significant, upgrade that could encourage more wearers to join the Fitbit Premium subscription program, which already has more than half a million members. According to Fitbit, all of the new features are aimed at helping people track and maintain their health.
“As we head further into the flu season amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, keeping an eye on changes to your day-to-day health metrics is more important than ever,” Fitbit CEO James Park said in a statement. “Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 are Fitbit’s most innovative devices yet and can play an important role in making new information available about your physical and mental health and wellbeing. We’re empowering you with the tools you need to better understand and take control of your health and wellness.”
Alexa has been a part of Fitbit for a while before Google came into the picture, first appearing on the Versa 2 smartwatch a year ago. Fitbit’s decision to make its smartwatches open to both voice assistants is likely to keep and attract more customers than limiting its devices to just Google Assistant. The reason could also be as simple as an existing contract with Amazon that requires Fitbit to host Alexa on its devices for at least a while longer. Amazon will probably be happy about maintaining Alexa’s place on Fitbit and the vocal upgrade, especially since its own new Halo fitness wearable is Alexa-free. Then again, Amazon did just decide to cancel plans to sell the Echo Loop smart ring, giving Fitbit’s smartwatches a slightly bigger piece of the Alexa-enabled wearable market. How Google handles Alexa’s presence on its devices as and when the acquisition goes through remains to be seen. Fitbit could be a semi-independent brand under the Google and Alphabet aegis, but it may end up looking like Nest, an entirely subsumed brand inextricably connected to Google. Unfortunately, there’s no sensor on the smartwatches to say which variation would be healthier.