As Wii U sales flag, Nintendo sets sights on Fitbit crowd

By Jonah Comstock
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Wii Fit MeterVideo game maker Nintendo seems to be putting its energies into fitness in an effort to save its floundering Wii U console, including launching an activity meter that could compete with the likes of the Misfit Shine or the Fitbit One.

The company announced that Wii Fit U, the new version of the company's successful fitness game Wii Fit, will finally launch November 1. It was originally slated to be released with the Wii U last year. It's no surprise that the company is turning to Wii Fit U to revitalize the struggling system, given that the original Wii Fit was one of the best-selling console games ever.

The software will be bundled with a clip-on activity meter worn at the hip called the Fit Meter.

"With this Fit Meter, you can now check the estimated number of calories you burn while you are on the go," Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata said in a launch announcement. "The Fit Meter is not a pedometer, it's actually an activity meter that uses a 3-axis accelerometer to calculate not only the number of steps you have taken, but also your intensity during exercise."

Without mentioning other products by name, Iwata took time to highlight differences between the Fit Meter and other trackers on the market.

"It also includes a pressure sensor to measure changes in altitude," he said. "This makes it possible to calculate the number of calories you've burned more accurately during certain activities like climbing up and down stars, which can be difficult for most activity meters to measure. Because the Fit Meter is attached at the hip, it helps to decrease the measurement error found in more common activity meters, which are worn on the wrist."

Users can see steps, elevation, goal, time, temperature, and METs directly on the screen of the pedometer. When the device is combined with the Wii Fit U software, it can display detailed graphs broken down by type of movement: running, walking, resting, climbing up, climbing down. A line graph of altitude is overlaid above the bar graph of movement type.

Wii Fit U screenshot

This is not Nintendo's first venture into activity tracking; the company previously released two pedometer accessories. In the fall of 2009, the company released a Nintendo DS game for adults called Personal Trainer Walking, which included a pedometer. Then, in March 2010, the company included a pedometer with the latest game in its popular Pokemon franchise. The device, called a Pokewalker, could virtually "store" a player's Pokemon, allowing the fictional creature to gain levels the more the player walked.

Like the original Wii Fit game, Wii Fit U will also use the Balance Board accessory which allows the Wii to track a wide range of motions while the user is in front of the console. The new launch will include 19 new training activities, for a total of 77.

Nintendo is offering the game for free trial download to anyone with a Balance Board from the November 1 launch date until January 31. The Fit Meter will also go on sale November 1, for $19.99. Anyone who purchases a Fit Meter and syncs it up during the trial period will get to upgrade to the permanent version of the game for free.

A $20 price point is about as low as activity meters get, a price point currently dominated by products like the Fitlinxx Pebble or the Virgin HealthMiles GoZone, both tied to corporate wellness platforms.

For more on fitness and exergaming, check out MobiHealthNews' new report on the Microsoft Kinect in healthcare.