On October 1, 2017, Fitbit released its much awaited Ionic smart watch as a competitor to Apple Watch. With this, the iconic Fitbit Surge phased out of Fitbit’s online store. While Fitbit has improvized its smart fitness watch technology with the Blaze and now Ionic, it was Fitbit Surge that took the market by storm. Surge was the debut Fitbit…
On October 1, 2017, Fitbit released its much awaited Ionic smart watch as a competitor to Apple Watch. With this, the iconic Fitbit Surge phased out of Fitbit’s online store. While Fitbit has improvized its smart fitness watch technology with the Blaze and now Ionic, it was Fitbit Surge that took the market by storm.
Surge was the debut Fitbit fitness tracker to look like a smart watch. It was the first in the line of Fitbit products to include multi-sport features such as tracking running distance, cardio-strength workouts, cross-training and even hiking. It had a swipeable and large display screen where customized summaries and real-time workout statistics were displayed.
iRunway has conducted a comprehensive teardown analysis of Fitbit Surge, with a focus on core technology areas that differentiate the Surge from its predecssors. You can download the Fitbit Surge – Teardown and Technology Analysis report.
Fitbit Patent Portfolio Analysis
Fitbit Inc. owns a portfolio of 265 IP assets (count of published patents and patent pending applications with the USPTO as on February 14, 2017), with the earliest patent filed in 2008. After an inactive period of two years, filing activity resumed on a very low curve. However, in 2014, the company filed 108 patent applications – the highest ever in Fitbit’s history. This was just before Fitbit filed for an IPO.
In March 2015, the company acquired FitStar – a leading platform that delivered personalized video-based exercise experiences on mobile devices – for $17.8 million. In May the same year, it acquired Coin, a wearable payments platform provider, for an undisclosed fee. On May 7, 2015, Fitbit filed for an IPO with the New York Stock Exchange for $358 million, and started trading from June 18 that year. However, in 2016 the stocks fell by about 50% and the company rehauled its business practice, metamorphosing its business.
Fitbit’s CEO James Park announced the company’s plans to become a digital healthcare company from its current image of a consumer electronics company. On December 7, 2016, Fitbit made a strategic move and acquired smart watch start-up Pebble Inc. for $23 million. While it acquired Pebble’s IP assets comprising around 20 patents and applications, and key personnel, Fitbit excluded all of Pebble’s hardware products. A month later, in January 2017, Fitbit paid $15 million to acquire Romanian smart watch start-up, Vector Watch SRL, by merging the team and software platform into its fold.
Classification of Fitbit’s Patent Portfolio
Fitbit’s IP portfolio can broadly be classified under three categories of Hardware, Software and Design.
Fitbit’s patent portfolio includes 215 IP assets related to hardware technologies. Majority of these IP assets focus on Sensor Hardware (177 IP assets) and Support Hardware (144 IP assets), describing technologies for components such as sensors and monitors. These components are essential to Fitbit’s devices and measure GPS co-ordinates, altitude change, angular rotation, heart rate, rate of change of walking speed, surrounding temperature and ambient light intensity.
Nearly 16% of Fitbit’s hardware IP assets are related to Motion Sensor technology, which forms the core of Fitbit’s pedometer and accelerometer monitoring components – a strength of Fitbit’s fitness trackers. All Fitbit products include a 3-axis accelerometer to measure various motion patterns and calorie burn. iRunway’s teardown report on Fitbit Surge includes a detailed analysis of its accelerometer technology.
Fitbit’s patent portfolio demonstrates its strong R&D focus in GPS sensor technology. This is the second largest researched technology domain within Fitbit’s hardware patent portfolio. Research to develop Heart Rate Monitors and BMI Monitors offered in the latest Fitbit products follow suit. Comprising over 7% of the hardware portfolio, Fitbit’s Heart Rate Monitoring IP assets protect this technology deployed in Surge, Blaze, Charge 2 and Alta HR.
Fitbit also deploys photo sensors to determine heart rate. Surge was the first Fitbit smart watch to include a heart rate monitor as an added functionality. However, Fitbit’s IP assets describe the use of these same photo sensors to measure temperature and light intensity. A growing consumer demand for body temperature monitors may find Fitbit programming heart rate photo sensors to also measure body temperature in its future products.
Fitbit products store, analyze and provide activity metric information to users using visual indicators. They are also enabled to transfer data to other consumer electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops. This support comprises of essential backend hardware components, including processors, Bluetooth and power management methods, making them an integral aspect of Fitbit’s patent portfolio.
Fitbit launched a native application for the iPhone in October 2011 and one for Android in March 2012. These apps allowed users to log their nutrition, activities, water intake and weight, and track personalized fitness goals even while offline. Initial iOS and Android apps could only retrieve data from the user’s Fitbit account. In September 2012, Fitbit One and Zip were announced as the first devices with the capability of syncing directly with phones through Bluetooth, albeit only in newer iOS devices. Subsequent updates to the app added support for new devices.
Over 51% of Fitbit’s software patents focus on Activity Monitoring technology, supporting the company’s R&D in Sensor Hardware. These patents describe technologies that aid the measurement of activity metrics such as distance/steps travelled, number of stairs climbed, calorie burn, sleep pattern, heart rate and body weight measurement. These features form the core of Fitbit’s activity monitoring devices in the wearable fitness monitors market. In February 2017, Fitbit announced an update to its activity monitoring software, allowing users to customize fitness goals.
Alarms, alerts and goal management in Fitbit products showcase activity metrics and reminders to users against a predetermined timeframe. Their surrounding-driven quality may also alert users of other Fitbit devices or integrated laptops in the vicinity. With data transfer between a Fitbit product and compatible devices playing a key role, there has been active R&D in input/output interfaces. Diode-based graphical/ visual display is a popularly used technology in Fitbit products. Fitbit Surge, Blaze, Charge 2, Alta, Alta HR and Zip are incorporated with a touchscreen display that is responsive to different types of user gestures such as wrist movement, touch/contact, etc.
Fitbit also owns IP assets that describe technologies to adjust visibility or change display in real-time based on the current state of the device and surrounding light intensity.
Fitbit has 183 IP assets related to data analysis and data processing collected through sensors and user acceptance. As identified in the teardown section of iRunway’s report, Fitbit Surge includes third-party components to collate data.
Fitbit has 23 design-related IP assets; a majority of these describe wristband and casing designs. It also includes a few patents that discuss features such as belt clip, armband, and components such as connector sockets.
For comprehensive details regarding the iconic Fitbit Surge and its components, read iRunway’s Product Teardown & Technology Analysis of Fitbit Surge.