I wear an Apple Watch and keep a Fitbit One tracker tucked in my pocket at all times. That may sound like overkill, but hear me out.
What Apple Watch does that Fitbit can't
Completing Apple Watch's three daily Activity circles — my Move, Exercise, and Stand goals — has become a healthy obsession for me. Every day, I'm determined to burn at least 510 active calories (Move), walk at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes (Exercise), and get off my butt once an hour for 12 hours a day (Stand).
I monitor my progress on my Watch face (the Modular option, for those of you who care), as well as via the Activity app on my iPhone. My obsession is paying off; during the three months I've owned my Watch, completing the three circles most every day has helped me lose 5 lbs., significantly increase my "healthy" HDL cholesterol, and sleep better. (Except when I read my iPad in bed at night — then, not so much.)
Fitbit doesn't prod me in the same way. It doesn't make me work as hard to complete a goal. However, Fitbit motivates me differently than the Apple Watch.
What Fitbit does that Apple Watch can't
Fitbit's leaderboard, where I compete with friends to be No. 1, frequently inspires me to take the stairs instead of an elevator, or walk to the grocery store instead of driving. Apple Watch offers no leaderboard or social sharing features for Activity data.
Fitbit's sleep tracking system, while not as robust as it could be, adds useful data to my overall activity history. Apple Watch currently doesn't track sleep, because its battery needs to recharge every night.
I own a Fitbit Aria scale, too, which compares my current weight to my goal and records the data in my daily history log. I can look back to, say, a year ago, see what I weighed and compare it to today. Apple Watch doesn't let me do anything like that, at least not yet.
Two more things are worth mentioning. First, I started using Fitbit in November 2012, and I have years of activity data in my history. That's valuable to me, and I don't want to stop contributing to that archive. Secondly, in my experience, Fitbit is good to its customers. A friend of mine lost his Fitbit One. Apparently, someone found it and mailed it to Fitbit, who in turn mailed the device back to my surprised friend. That's a customer service "wow," in my book.
Recently, my two-year-old, out-of-warranty Fitbit Aria scale couldn't connect to the Wi-Fi network created by a new router Comcast installed in my home office. After multiple unsuccessful connection attempts, I emailed Fitbit tech support. The support person suggested some fixes, none of which worked. In his last email, he asked for my full name and address — so the company could send me a replacement Aria. I didn't even have to ask.
Ultimately, there are lots of reasons to go with an Apple Watch or other smartwatch, as well as plenty of good reasons to buy a dedicated activity tracker. Few people will follow my lead and own both. And that's OK.
My instinct is that smartwatches will go mainstream, eliminating the need for many people to wear an activity tracker. At the same time, the stronger companies in the activity tracking field, especially Fitbit, will endure, provided they continue to evolve, innovate — and take good care of their customers.