Opinion: Fitbit Blaze could be the biggest wearable of 2016

It's not revolutionary but the strength of the Fitbit brand will carry it

If you saw the Fitbit Blaze announced yesterday, you probably thought, as we did in the office, "That's kind of a boring looking Apple Watch knock-off, but okay, whatever," and then went about your business. Investors were so unimpressed, the share price imediately started diving, and had lost 22 per cent of it's value within 24 hours.

But the chances are that you're probably wrong, and the stock market might be as well.

• Fitbit Blaze and the rest of 2016's wearable champs are here

• Our favourite fitness bands are here

•…And running watches live here

Fitbit is a quiet giant. Compared to some, it doesn't go big on lavish launches or advertising till its slogans appear to be tattooed on your eyelids, yet it dominates the American and European fitness tracker markets and is number one in the world for wearables of any kind. A lot of users probably think the likes of Garmin, Polar, Jawbone, Misfit et al are on a similar footing to Fitbit but in Q2 of 2105, according to IDC, it actually outsold the lot of them, put together.

In fact, I sometimes get the suspicion that Fitbit is the only hardware brand other than Apple that's making serious money from wearables. That's because it got in early, and it's consistently made good decisions. Erm… In between some admittedly baffling ones.

Fitbit was the first brand to dominate the market for what are, at the end of the day, jazzed up pedometers. It did so by marketing in a gender neutral way that, if anything, was more female-friendly. The first Fitbits clipped on rather than being wrist-worn, so were as suitable for bra straps as waistbands, and marketing did not go heavy on sweaty, muscular torsos. Early competitors - notably Nike - went totally down the bro route, meaning they were trying to sell into a niche half the size of Fitbit's niche, and floundered. Although ironically, the marketing image for Blaze used above suggests that the focus with this product is more on men.

It then pushed on into the now-standard arm-mounted trackers and, admittedly, put out a device, the Fitbit Force, that appeared to give a larger than acceptable proportion of the world's population a nasty rash.

Then it mystifyingly put out the Charge and the Charge HR at almost the same time, which seemed like a bad move, but which appears to have paid off, with reviewers loving the more powerful HR and punters lapping up the cheaper Charge.

Then came the Fitbit Surge, which appeared to be a confused hybrid of running watch and step counter but did pretty well, becoming the best selling running watch in the USA (over here, Garmin dominates).

Fitbit's market-leading position is built on solid hardware, a versatile app that's strong in many ways - especially its social elements and the way it incorporates third-party apps such as Strava and Mapmyfitness - and a knack for knowing when to move on with its marketing. It's gone from appealing just to casual fitness mums, to aiming at more serious gym-goers, runners and cyclists as well.

It's also consistently innovated with its software, with the latest masterstroke being that your Charge HR or Surge is now able to accurately detect when you're running or cycling, so you no longer need to remember to press a button to tell your Fitbit you're about to do something strenuous.

So while the Fitbit Blaze looks kind of like an Apple Watch but ropier, and is sort of a fitness tracker, sort of a smartwatch (but not quite, as it doesn't do apps), and kind of a running watch (but not exactly as there's no GPS), I still think it'll do really well.

First up, looks-wise it may not tussle convincingly with Apple's Watch, Tag Heuer's Connect or even Samsung's G2 but one thing is for sure; it is far nicer than the Fitbit Surge, which is currently the number one running watch in the world's biggest market for running watches.

At £169 it's not pocket-money priced but it is cheaper than most watches, cheaper than all its smartwatch rivals AND cheaper at launch than the Surge. This is what nails it, for me.

The rest of the spec is solid, with a quoted five-day battery life - people are always moaning about smartwatch battery life, right? - a bright, hi-res screen, in contrast to the Surge's rather turgid greyscale number, notifications, and all the usual good things you get with Fitbit devices. The ability to easily swap straps is also good both for users and generating revnue from selling little bits of leather and rubber with straps on, so full marks there, too.

In my opinion, people will be willing to pay that £169 and that the Blaze will do extremely well in 2016. So why did the share price fall, and why is that not necessarily because investors are stupid?

I think there are two reasons. First, some investors probably hoped Fitbit had something more revolutionary up its sleeve, which strikes me as unrealistic. Some, by contrast were probably happy enough with Fitbit's market-leading position with a proven line-up of products, and see no reason to try to take on Apple with a (sort of) smartwatch.

Underlying that is, no doubt, the suspicion that fitness wearables are perhaps a bit of a fad, albeit a lucrative one, that will eventually be swept away by more versatile smartwatches and fitness apps, rather like phones and apps have demolished the sat-nav and compact camera markets. Investors in shares tend to be thinking about what will happen to their money in years to come rather than what happened this week.

Of course, I've not actually used a Blaze yet, and there is always the possibility that it'll be a buggy piece of crap that gives you a rash. In which case, I apologise in advance, but I really don't think that'll be the case.

However, in terms of aesthetics and functionality, Blaze looks like a strong product to me. It cuts out a lot of the feature excess that dogs smartwatches to concentrate on fitness and notifications, it appears to notably improve on existing Fitbits (the Surge and Charge HR) that have performed really well for the brand, and it serves up the battery life that everyone says the smartwatch market needs. Most importantly, I think they've got the price right, although who knows what that means for the brand's profit margins, but let's not go there.

Whether Fitbit is still number one in the wearables market by the time Apple Watch 3 comes out is not something I'm ready to make a prediction about, but Blaze, plus continued sales of the older Fitbits, should keep it on top in 2016. Even if there's nothing truly new here, Blaze looks like a great distillation of everything Fitbit has achieved to date.