Fitbit app update improves run tracking, food logging

By Jonah Comstock
09:15 am
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screen568x568 The updated Fitbit app tracks frequency of exercise on a calendar.

Fitbit has announced a major update to its iOS app, which will be accessible to users of the Fitbit Flex, Fitbit One, and Fitbit Zip devices. The app update adds two new feature sets to Fitbit's app: MobileRun, which will add a number of capabilities for runners, and enhanced food logging tools, including one that integrates food and activity tracking.

MobileRun adds to Fitbit's app the sort of features that have been available in running-specific apps like RunKeeper and RunTastic for some time. Fitbit users will be able to use GPS integration to record and track the exact route of their run, as well as statistics like pace per mile, distance, and time. Those stats will automatically feed into the main Fitbit dashboard, giving the user credit for steps and calories tracked by the app, even if the Fitbit device didn't pick them up. The app can also talk to users as they run, telling them route history, distance, or mile markers. Additionally, the app allows users to access their iTunes music, so they can play and switch songs while still in the Fitbit app.

The food logging updates include an expansion of Fitbit's food database, which now consists of 350,000 foods. For comparison, MyFitnessPal boasts 3 million and MyNetDiary claims 611,000. Additionally, the app adds a barcode scanner to log some store-bought foods more efficiently. Another feature makes it easier for users to quickly estimate calories in a food by choosing a similar one in the database and adjusting based on ingredients and preparation. The app also autocompletes meals that the user logs regularly, and suggests foods that the user often eats together.

Perhaps the most interesting update in the app is an integration between the food-logging capability and the activity tracking provided by the user's Fitbit device. A new feature called Calorie Coaching allows users to "set a food plan with weight loss goals and see how many calories in vs. out they should be targeting each day, with access to easy to read charts to help them stay on track," according to a press release by Fitbit. The "coach" can then adjust calorie guidance based on how much the user has moved. 

Although the new features are currently available only for the iOS version of the app, the company says the Android version is coming soon. Fitbit's last major update to its app was back in January, when the company added passive tracking with Apple's M7 motion co-processor in a feature called Motion Track.

Four months ago, in February, Fitbit issued a voluntary recall of the Fitbit Force, its newest tracker, after a number of users complained about skin rashes. At the time, CEO James Park suggested Fitbit's next generation device was coming soon, but it has not yet emerged. Instead, the company has gone back to supporting the Fitbit Flex as its flagship tracker.

Despite its foibles with the Fitbit Force, Fitbit continues to dominate the wearable activity tracker market. A report from NPD Group showed that 67 percent of the trackers sold in 2013 were Fitbit devices. More recently, Canalys reported that Fitbit held 50 percent market share in wearable shipments in the first quarter of 2014, a total of 1.35 million shipments.

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