US regulators are investigating claims that Fitbit and Garmin violated Philips’ wearable device patents – Blog – 10 minute

In context: Patent disputes are the norm in the tech industry. It feels like one company is always accusing another of swiping their legally-protected ideas, and it’s never clear who will come out on top. For better or worse, we’re seeing this trend present itself once again: federal investigators are officially looking into Fitbit and Garmin after fellow wearable device maker Philips accused them both of violating its patents.
This news was first revealed by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) in a press release today. This organization, for the unaware, investigates unfair trade practices, as well as copyright, trademark, and — of course — patent disputes.
In this case, Philips (yes, the same Philips that makes color-changing Hue bulbs) believes Garmin, Fitbit, and other wearable device makers copied a few patented, smartwatch-related ideas for use in their own products. Some of the wearable gadget functions being disputed include motion tracking, activity monitoring, and “alarm reporting” technology.
In other words, it seems Philips is aiming to claim ownership over a few very basic smartwatch features — or at least, specific implementations of those features. Whether or not those claims will hold up remains to be seen.
The USITC’s investigation has only just begun, and it will be some time before any concrete answers turn up. The organization will need to question representatives from all “respondent” companies and look for evidence to support or detract from Philips’ assertions.
The USITC has made it clear that it has “not yet made any decisions” on the merits of this case. Today’s announcement is just that; an announcement, and not confirmation that Philips or Garmin have actually broken any patent laws. The USITC will reveal a “target date” for the completion of its investigation within 45 days, however, so we’ll be sure to update this article when that information is released.

Philips’ Health Watch.
For those who aren’t familiar with the products developed by the companies mentioned above, Fitbit is best known for its varied line of fitness trackers, such as the Charge or Versa 2. Garmin’s product line-up is a bit less specialized: it does make fitness trackers, but also smartwatches, GPS devices, and more.
Philips’ sole wearable device is its “Health Watch,” which is no longer officially available for purchase from the company’s website. When it was, it cost a whopping $250 and offered very similar features to other fitness trackers on the market.
Fitbit, for its part, is none too pleased with these accusations. “We believe these claims are without merit and a result of Philips’s failure to succeed in the wearables market,” the company allegedly said in a statement to The Verge. We’ll have to wait and see who will win this patent battle.
Image credit: VentureBeat, Tom’s Guide

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Fitbit Versa 2 review – gpgmail


The Versa didn’t single-handedly save Fitbit, but it gave the struggling wearable company a way forward. The smartwatch demonstrated the potential for life beyond the fitness tracker. It also proved that Fitbit was finally ready to offer a product that could compete with the utterly dominant Apple Watch.

Last year’s Versa Lite was, by all accounts, a misstep. The device was an attempt to capitalize on one of the Versa’s strongest selling points: price. It was a miscalculation, however. The discount wasn’t enough to justify the missing features, and Fitbit’s financials took a hit as things finally appeared to be heading in the right direction.

By that account, the Versa 2 arrives just in time to help offset soft smartwatch sales numbers, a year and a half after the first device arrived. The new device doesn’t represent a radical departure from the first version. Nor should it. After the disappointing Ionic, Fitbit got things pretty right with the original Versa.

The smartwatch offered a solid, fitness-focused alternative to the Apple Watch for Android users and those looking for something cheaper than that $400 wearable. At $200, it’s priced the same as its predecessor. And that feels just about right, given the design and feature set.

Honestly, you can’t mention the design without invoking the Apple Watch. I’m sure Fitbit would rather have a conversation about the device that isn’t utterly dominated by Apple, but, well, the evolution of the Versa’s design is asking for it. Here’s what CEO James Park told me when the product launched:

“With phones, it’s like every phone starts to look the same. But for us, we try to blend a round design and the square design into what we call the squircle design that tries to capture both one that looks more like a traditional watch piece but still has a squareish form factor to display information. So we think we’ve struck the right balance. And I think whether it looks like an Apple Watch or not is kind of irrelevant. We’re trying to look at the customer experience and try to see what’s best for the user.”

There’s probably something to that, though to be fair, the default watch design is round, not square, and most non-Apple products have gone that route. That said, Fitbit did acquire the Pebble design team, and the argument can certainly be made that the new device shares some clear characteristics with the pioneering startup’s products.

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Moving beyond those superficial interests, the hardware is quite nice, particularly given the $200 price point. The display has been upgraded from LCD to AMOLED, though it’s still surrounded by a pretty massive black bezel on all sides. The casing is a nice brushed metal — a dark gray in the case of the one I chose. I also opted for the 44mm version. It’s the larger of the two models, but it fits great — it was even reasonably comfortable to sleep in, which can’t be said for most smartwatches.

Good on Fitbit for making a 40mm version available, as well. This was a major oversight on past devices from a company with such a larger female user base.

There’s a single button on the device, which doubles as power and an Alexa trigger. That’s one of the bigger additions here. After spending millions on acquisitions to build its own OS and ecosystem, a smart assistant is probably a bridge too far at this point. A deal with Amazon, however, is mutually beneficial to both parties. Fitbit gets access to a leading smart assistant with little to no investment and Amazon gets a leg up on wearables.

Interestingly, there’s no speaker on the device. Alexa can hear you via the built-in mic, but it can’t respond accordingly. That means the answers are displayed visually instead. It’s a novel way to interact with Alexa and in most cases probably easier than holding your watch up to your ear. That said, Alexa was always irritatingly slow, first listening, then thinking, then returning the result. I’m not sure if that’s an easy software fix for Fitbit but it’s less than ideal.

The app selection has thankfully improved since last time as well. Fitbit’s still got a long ways to go to compete with Apple, but the addition of Spotify feels like a pretty big win for the company. It’s a big step up from the Deezer integration the Ionic launched with.

FitbitOS is fairly simple, but that’s fine. It works well with the small screen size. A decade of experience means Fitbit’s got a solid selection of health software features. It will be interesting to see what the company adds to the device with its $10 a month Fitbit Premium service. I’ve got some doubts on that one, but I’m willing to hold off judgement until I try it. Unlike Apple, Fitbit has offered sleep tracking for some time (expected to come to the Watch with tomorrow’s update). There’s a new Sleep Score feature, as well, which distills your patterns into something a bit more easily digestible.

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The battery has been improved to five days, which was about right in my testing. That’s certainly a big plus over the Apple Watch, particularly for a device that’s meant to be worn regularly to bed. Obviously that number will fluctuate quite a bit depending on usage and whether you opt for the always-on display — another nice feature.

The Versa 2 is a nice update over the original. There’s not enough here to warrant an upgrade, but it should help maintain Fitbit’s spot as one of the few viable Apple Watch competitors. And that $200 price point certainly doesn’t hurt.


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Fitbit, Andela, AfricaTech, startups and Brexit, plus content moderation – gpgmail


Programming note: Happy Labor Day!

To our U.S.-based readers, happy Labor Day weekend. Extra Crunch will be off on Monday and will resume publishing next Tuesday.

Reminder: EC ticket discounts for Enterprise Sessions and Disrupt SF

Next week, we will be hosting our Enterprise Sessions event at Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. It’s a killer lineup, and directly follows up on Ron and Frederic’s Extra Crunch coverage around quantum computing, next-generation cloud services, artificial intelligence, and data center orchestration. I just checked in with the events team, and we are down to the last dozen or so tickets before the fire marshal gets angry — so if you want to join us, please snag a ticket soon.

I will be at Yerba Buena all day, so if you are a subscriber and you are attending next Thursday, feel free to reach out — would love to meet any of you in person.

Meanwhile, gpgmail Disrupt SF is about a month away, and it also has a stellar lineup. This year, we have a dedicated “Extra Crunch” stage focused on helping founders build their companies, from how to fundraise without dilution, to massively growing a team at scale, to how to build a brand and reach out to media. In addition, we will have a special Extra Crunch members-only lounge space as just one of a couple of ways we are trying to make our premium readers feel special at our biggest event of the year.

Today is the last day before ticket prices rise, so if you’re interested in coming, be sure to get an order in.

For all gpgmail events, EC annual subscribers get a 20% ticket discount. Just reach out to customer service at extracrunch@Gpgmail.com and they will get you all squared away.

Fitbit’s CEO discusses the company’s subscription future

Our hardware editor Brian Heater got a chance to sit down with James Park, CEO of Fitbit, about a topic near and dear to my heart: consumer subscriptions. With the rise of consumer fitness subscription startups like Peloton, which recently filed its S-1, the business model of fitness is being upended, and now Fitbit is preparing to move even more in this direction. Be sure to also check out Brian’s earlier analysis of the state of the smartwatch.

Heater:The narrative around Apple’s last several quarters, as far as how they’re allocating, is a shift into content. Do you think that more and more of the revenue is going to be generated by content and services versus hardware?

Park: Yeah, I think more of our profits, because of the gross margin profile, will be generated by the software and services. But I think the good thing for our category in general is that unlike smartphones, the hardware portion is still rapidly growing in many countries around the world.

If you look at smartwatches, they’re growing 30% or higher per year. And for us, in the first half, trackers actually grew 51% year over year. So there’s still a lot of innovation and growth in the hardware portion of wearables. But where we do see things rapidly taking off is in software and services.


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Fitbit Announces Versa 2 Smartwatch With Alexa


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Fitbit scooped up the remains of fan-favorite smartwatch maker Pebble several years ago, using that expertise to launch its own line of smartwatches. The Ionic came first, and then the smaller, cheaper Versa. Now, Fitbit is back with a second-gen smartwatch, a followup to the Versa predictably called Versa 2. The design is cleaner and more refined, and there’s support for voice commands via Amazon Alexa. It’ll also support Fitbit’s new paid subscription fitness service. 

The Ionic and Versa both focused on fitness and health tracking functionality, as you’d expect from a company like Fitbit. However, they brought some enhanced features that set them apart from the company’s watch-like fitness trackers including apps, custom clock faces, and smartphone notification management. 

The Versa 2SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce looks similar to the first-gen Versa, but there’s only one physical button on the side — the shortcut keys on the right edge are gone. The shape of the watch is also a bit more round and similar to the Apple Watch. The original Versa was already very similar to the Apple Watch, so the Versa 2 might be completely indistinguishable from a distance. 

Instead of the shortcut buttons, the right edge of the Versa 2 has a microphone. You can launch Alexa on the watch by pressing and holding the remaining side button. After linking your Alexa profile, you can get basic search results, control smart home devices, manage timers, and more. However, you won’t hear Alexa reply to your commands — the Versa 2 doesn’t have a speaker. That would have made it harder to water-proof. With the new microphone, the watch maintains its 50m submersion rating. 

All versions of the Versa 2 will have NFC for Fitbit Pay; only special edition versions of the original Versa had that. It will also support Fitbit’s new Sleep Score feature, which uses your activity throughout the day to determine how much sleep you need. It’s sort of like grading your sleep on a curve. However, the watch still lacks GPS, just like the previous Versa. 

The Versa 2 is available for pre-order today, starting at $200. That might be just a drop in the bucket if you also buy into Fitbit’s new monthly service. The Fitbit Premium service costs $10 per month and launches in 2020. Fitbit Premium features personalized health coaching, one-on-one training guidance, premium challenges, and more. If you buy the $230 special edition Versa 2, it comes with a 90-day trial of Fitbit Premium.

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Fitbit cofounders James Park and Eric Friedman are coming to Disrupt SF – gpgmail


Ten years ago, a hardware startup launched a fitness device on stage at gpgmail 50. The $99 gadget combined a pedometer with a diet monitoring system, designed to help wearers meet their fitness goals.

Of course, a lot has changed for Fitbit in the intervening decade. The company has since become synonymous with fitness trackers in the U.S. In 2015, it filed for a $358 million IPO.

After several years of defining the wearables category, things have gotten a bit rockier, however, as the company contends with increased competition from the premium Apple Watch and low cost trackers from companies like Xiaomi.

Through acquisitions like Pebble and Vector, the company has improved its fortunes by building its own smartwatch line. Fitbit has also begun to transition into the healthcare industry through partnerships wit companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Fitbit’s cofounders James Park and Eric Friedman will join us on stage to discuss their process for growing a hardware startup and navigating often fickle industry trends.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all gpgmail event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@Gpgmail.com to get your 20% off discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.


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Fitbit lowers guidance after Versa Lite disappoints – gpgmail


Fitbit continued solid device growth for Q2, up 31%, year over year, representing a 5% bump in revenue. From that angle, the company’s long-term turnaround appears to be on track — but things weren’t all cheery this time out. Notably, the company’s stock is down in after-hours trading after it lowered guidance for annual revenue.

The company laid much of the blame at the feet of the Versa Lite. Announced in March, the $160 device is a stripped-down version of the Versa, the smartwatch that helped kickstart Fitbit’s most recent act.

“While we are disappointed to lower guidance for the year, we remain confident in our long-term transformation strategy and have demonstrated good results across key areas of the business,” CEO James Park said in a release tied to the earnings. We saw growth in devices sold, increased active users and continued growth in our Fitbit Health Solutions channel, up 42% in the first half of 2019.”

All told, smartwatch revenue dropped 27% year over year, with the Lite making up a lower than expected 38% of that number. Ultimately the company’s recently consolidated tracker offers were there to pick up some of the slack, with a 51% year over year increase.

The stumbles come in contrast to this week’s Apple earnings, which found wearables on the upswing as iPhone sales continued to sputter. In addition to a newfound focus on smartwatches, Fitbit’s recent shift also includes a healthcare offering. Fitbit Health Solutions is up 42% for the year, with international growth playing a key role.


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