Runtastic launches Orbit, a wearable to tie its apps together

By Jonah Comstock
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Runtastic OrbitTwo years after its first foray into the hardware space, Austrian fitness company Runtastic is launching a new $119.99 wearable activity tracker, the Runtastic Orbit. The company aims to differentiate itself from the crowded activity tracker market by closely integrating the device with Runtastic's existing ecosystem of fitness apps, and also by targeting the European market, which is not yet as engaged with activity trackers as United States consumers are.

"There’s Fitbit in the US, there’s Jawbone in US, they do have big pockets and a lot of VC money, sure," Runtastic CEO Florian Gschwandtner told MobiHealthNews. "But here in Europe ... nobody has a clue about wearables. Whereas Runtastic, we have a really strong brand here in Europe, I would say we’re the known brand either in the running apps or the whole mobile health fitness, we’re the number one company here and we have a really good track record. And we think with our 85 million downloads, with our newsletter of 20 million people, we don’t start from scratch. We have finished distribution here in Europe, so we’re already on the shelves."

The Orbit will track steps, calories burned, active minutes, and sleep at launch. Additional tracking parameters related to swimming and cycling will become available via firmware updates, and the device has an ambient light sensor that will be usable in an update as well. Double tapping the single button on the device also allows the users to track their mood in a limited way -- they can denote happy moments that will then appear as a smiley face on their activity graph in the app. 

The device is waterproof up to 300 feet and can be worn either as a wristband or on a clip. The battery lasts about five days. The onboard screen tells users how many steps, calories, and active minutes they've accumulated so far, and vibrates when the user gets halfway to their step goal (configured in the app) and again when it's complete. In the future, the screen will be able to display other data from other Runtastic apps, or track other goals besides steps.

All the data syncs via Bluetooth into a new Runtastic app, the Runtastic Me app, which is being launched in tandem with the app. As more and more Runtastic apps integrate with the Orbit, the Runtastic Me app will become the dashboard for the Runtastic ecosystem, Gschwandtner said. For users who don't have an Orbit, the Runtastic Me app can grab data from Apple's M7 chip or from Runtastic's pedometer app on older devices and Android devices.

"The goal is you open the Runtastic Me app three times a day and you can say to it 'Ok, I’d like to lose 5 pounds' and it will say to you, 'Ok. We know people who are your age and they have done that. How they achieved that? We recommend on Monday you take a walk for 20 minutes. On Wednesday you will be doing 20 pushups with the Runtastic pushup app. On Friday you’re doing whatever in the Runtastic app.' And having this training schedule preconfigured on the Me app ... That is where we would like to go. That’s the vision we believe in."

Runtastic was founded in 2009 and has 23 different fitness apps on the iTunes store, some free and some for sale. In 2012, the company started dipping its foot into hardware, with a GPS watch and a branded heart strap. A scale, the Runtastic LIBRA, followed in 2013.

"We really want to build a brand," Gschwandtner said. "'This is Runtastic, I can feel it, it’s mine.' And we believe that if you would like to build a real brand you need some kind of physical goods."

Gschwandtner is a longtime user of wearables himself, and recently wrote a piece for Wearable World News about his experiences with the Nike Fuelband and the Jawbone UP and his conviction that tracking works best with both hardware and software. He told MobiHealthNews that Runtastic tried hard to learn from the experiences of other trackers like the Fitbit Force in developing the Orbit.

"I tried a lot of wearables and I’m not the guy who’s saying, we’ve got the best one... but I think we spent a lot of time on some things where we have seen problems from other ones," he said. "So we hope and we are very convinced that there’s a great chance that we can be a player in this market and let’s see how big we can be in this market."

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