Should Fitbit welcome back the button? | Mixed Signals
A new leak suggests forthcoming Fitbits will reintroduce a previously-lost feature from the company's wearables: buttons. Is it the right move, though?
By Alex Walker-Todd, Tech Advisor
A new leak hints at a potential return to physical buttons on Fitbit’s next top-tier smartwatches, but if true, does this mark a step forwards or backwards for the evolution of the company’s wearables?
Fans have been clamouring for a new Fitbit ever since it last launched actual hardware back in August 2021; with the unveiling of its Charge 5 tracker. In the meantime, we’ve seen little more than a few updates, accessories, enhancements to the company’s Premium service and the occasional (slightly concerning)
The company’s wearable hardware can be divided into two distinct form factors: activity trackers (like the
Charge 5) and more sizeable smartwatch-style Fitbits. The last two entries of the latter form factor to launch were the
Versa 3 and
Sense, both of which inherited the ’squircle’ silhouette previously sported by the
Versa 2 and both of which ditched physical buttons entirely.
Instead, these Fitbit smartwatches served up an indented element on the right side of their frames with no visible moving parts that returned haptic feedback in the form of subtle vibration, when pressed. This made for a more elegant design overall but didn’t necessarily offer a better user experience; with some reporting inconsistent touch response from this ‘virtual’ button that hindered navigation.
Imagery seeded to
9to5Google in early May shows an unreleased Fitbit, thought to be the unannounced Versa 4 and one of the most intriguing parts of the shot is that it looks as though it sports a button on its right side. A real one.
Whether this design trait will remain exclusive to the
Versa 4 or also be found on its similarly-styled sibling – the rumoured
Sense 2 – is unclear but it’s a definite shift that would help validate the user push-back the company received against the capacitive alternative found on its 2020 smartwatches.
There are a number of reasons why the next Sense and Versa may be better or worse off with physical buttons and it’s a conversation that’s already been had with other high profile consumer technology over the years.
It’s part of the reason why the
iPhone SE lives on in its current form; sporting a design first scribed back in 2014 by the iPhone 6 (itself a humble adaptation of the 2007 original).
The phone’s physical home button is an iconic piece of hardware design that some fans just can’t quit. Some simply prefer the look and feel, others favour Touch ID over Face ID (especially right now, as support for Face ID while wearing a mask only just arrived in
Manufacturers have tried pushing the envelope in the other direction too, with the touchscreen-based volume controls along the edge of the
Huawei Mate 30 Pro‘s ‘Horizon’ display, and entries like the Meizu Zero and
Vivo Apex 2019 giving us the opportunity to experience life with a truly buttonless, portless device, with varying levels of success.
Reinstating the side button on Fitbit’s wearables is primarily a practically-driven argument that’s not solely informed by problematic predecessors or tied up in Fitbit fandom. Adding back that one physical button could help in matters of accessibility and in scenarios where capacity buttons struggle to function (such as when swimming or when handled with wet/sweaty fingers).
We’ll know Fitbit’s decision on the matter sooner rather than later, it seems, with this latest leak pointing to near-complete hardware and Fitbit-adjacent events like
Google I/O 2022 only days away, with the potential to shed at least some light on what the company is cooking up.