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FitBit Inc Is About to Face Another Smartwatch Competitor

By Sam Mattera - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:19AM

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TomTom's Spark is an activity tracker in the form of a smarwatch.

TomTom (TMOAF -3.32%) is stepping up its wearable efforts. The GPS giant, known for its dedicated navigators, first entered the segment in 2013 with wrist-worn, fitness-focused smartwatches. Since then, it has continued to innovate and its latest device, the Spark, will make debut later this month. When it does, the Spark will provide even more competition for FitBit(FIT) trackers.

TomTom Spark. Photo: TomTom

A dedicated device with a more general purpose
So far, TomTom smartwatches have been aimed at dedicated athletes. The TomTom Runner and Multi-Sport are workout gadgets in the purest sense. The Runner is (as its name implies) a tool for runners, giving them the ability to track their workouts, including distance traveled, calories burned, pace, and duration. The Mutli-Sport offers a bit more with support for bicycling and swimming.

But outside of the pool, track, and trails, both watches are largely useless. They aren't meant to be worn around every minute, nor do they encourage daily activity or help track sleep. Like a high-tech sweatband, they're meant to be used during workouts, then tucked away in a gym bag. This stands in sharp contrast to FitBit's trackers, which are designed for continuous use. To date, TomTom watches haven't been a competitive threat, because they serve a different purpose.

But that will change later this month when the Spark makes its debut. Like FitBit trackers, the latest TomTom watch is meant to be worn all the time. It offers the dedicated features athletes expect but also serves as an activity and sleep tracker. In terms of design, it's more conspicuous than entry-level FitBit offerings, but it isn't much larger than the high-end FitBit Surge. It's also priced competitively, offering more than the Surge, including on-board music storage and the ability to be used in the pool. With TomTom's MySports app, owners will link the Spark to their smartphones, gaining the ability to review and track their activity.

The FitBit Surge in action. Photo: FitBit

FitBit will have some advantages over TomTom. In his hands-on preview, Hugh Langley, writing for techradar, bemoaned the limited functionality offered by TomTom's app. "Should FitBit and Jawbone be worried? Maybe a little, but these generalist fitness features feel very basic on the Spark right now," he writes.

FitBit's app offers a variety of unique features, including the ability to compete with friends and receive customized recommendations. TomTom's software is limited by comparison, though it could eventually clone much of that functionality.

FitBit remains on top, but competition is intensifying
To date, FitBit has been far more successful than TomTom. Last month, IDC reported that FitBit shipped more wearable devices than any other vendor, moving 4.4 million units in the second quarter. TomTom did not crack the top seven, but the wearable market remains in its infancy. IDC expects the market for wearable devices to reach 126.1 million units in 2019, up from 45.7 million units this year.

TomTom's Spark could be a success, or the firm could continue to wallow in wearable obscurity. Either way, it highlights the threats that continue to plague FitBit's business. It isn't just the Apple Watch, or Android Wear devices, or Jawbone trackers that are vying for the top spot -- competition is everywhere.

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