Fitbit slims down heart rate sensor to offer Alta HR

By Jonah Comstock
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It may not be the smartwatch competitor promised on a recent earnings call, but Fitbit did announce a new device today that combines the advantages of two of its existing trackers. With the Fitbit Alta HR, the wearables company has added the PurePulse heart rate tracking technology from devices like the Fitbit Charge HR to the slimmer fashion-forward Fitbit Alta. The new version of Alta also adds additional features for sleep tracking.

In order to add heart rate to the Alta, Fitbit had to reduce the size and number of components in its heart rate sensor, the company said in a statement, making the sensor 25 percent slimmer than the one in the Fitbit Charge 2. The heart rate sensor enables the tracker to automatically detect exercise and to more accurately track workout intensity and calorie burn, and it uses little enough power that the device has a seven-day battery life.

“Alta HR and these powerful new sleep features demonstrate our continued focus on evolving our innovative technology to deliver deeper, more actionable insights to help our users improve their health,” James Park, cofounder and CEO of Fitbit, said in a statement. “The miniaturization of our PurePulse heart rate technology opens up exciting opportunities for future generations of devices and new form factors. Our advances in sleep will provide millions of users around the globe accessibility to invaluable insights that previously could be obtained only through expensive lab tests.”

The sleep tracking features, which use the heart rate sensor, include "Sleep Stages", which uses heart rate variability to provide the user with estimates about how much time they spend in light, deep, and REM sleep, and "Sleep Insights" which combines heart rate data with movement data to give users personalized advice and insights.

Sleep Stages was designed in conjunction with a panel of sleep experts from Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Arizona. Fitbit plans to submit data on the use of its sensors to detect sleep stages at SLEEP 2017, a major professional meeting of sleep specialists, later this year. 

“From helping maintain a healthy immune system, to preserving your cognitive functions and managing a healthy weight, your sleep – or lack of – plays a critical role,” Dr. Allison Siebern, a professor at Stanford University and member of Fitbit's expert panel, said in a statement. “Fitbit’s new sleep features use a scientific-based approach to show your sleep patterns over time, and provide you with validated, actionable guidance to help you make changes in your daily routine to achieve greater quality sleep – and in turn improve your overall health. Given the comfort and accessibility of this product, it’s one of the most valuable and useful sleep tracking solutions available to consumers outside of a sleep lab.”

Like previous trackers in the Alta line, the Alta HR will come in a variety of colors and styles, including designer lines from PUBLIC SCHOOL, Simply Vera Vera Wang and Tory Burch. The device will be available in retail stores and Fitbit's website starting in April (it's currently in presale online) for a base price of $149.95, with additional charges for the specialty band designs. Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights will also be available on other Fitbit devices when they launch some time in the spring.