Flying With “Phone-Free Music” From FitbitThe company known for smartwatches wants to soar above the neck. Published: March 19, 2019
A trailblazer in wearables, Fitbit has broken into other product categories, including wireless headphones. The San Francisco-based company sells the Fitbit Flyer, which it’s optimized for fit, made sweatproof, and developed knowing Americans love to work out and listen to “phone-free music.” The headphones feature “geoorganic design,” which is quite literally a hybrid of precise shape and softness that meld with the individual details of the ear. The audio component has some bragging rights, too, using Waves MaxxAudio technology often seen in studios and motion pictures. Jonah Becker, Fitbit’s vice president of design, answered questions about why his company got into the headphone game, why wireless is the future, and the elusive search for the perfect fit.
When you talk about the design of your headphones, what’s the first design feature you mention and why?
We developed Fitbit Flyer with the goal of building the ultimate wireless headphones for fitness, built to withstand the toughest workouts, while also offering comfort and versatility for all-day use. From a design perspective, our main focus was on creating something that was comfortable, durable and could be customized to fit each user. To achieve this, we included a set of unique ergonomic fit options with interchangeable ear tips, wings and fins to ensure they are personalized for optimal comfort, security and sound quality.
How do you take consumer feedback into account when you’re designing?
Consumer feedback plays a large role in our approach to product design. When we first explored creating wireless headphones, our users told us that their number one complaint about wireless headphones already on the market was that they didn’t stand up to sweat—they were replacing broken pair after broken pair. Their number two complaint was fit—most wireless earbuds would not stay securely in their ears through high impact workouts, making for interrupted sets and slower sprints.
With this feedback in mind, we set out to create a pair of wireless headphones that were comfortable and durable enough to stand up to the toughest workouts, without sacrificing the high-quality audio required to motivate users to perform and feel their best throughout the day.
Have consumers asked for features that you as a designer know aren't realistic?
Consumers all want perfect fit, but ears are one of the most unique and inconsistent features of the human body. We are continuously working to find solutions and design products that address this, with many of our products offering customizable design options. By including two unique concha interfaces (wings and fins), Flyer captures a very broad range of ear sizes and shapes to deliver a personalized fit.
Where do you get inspiration for new headphone designs from?
More than 66 million people in the U.S. listen to music when exercising and it’s a proven motivator when it comes to fitness. We took seriously the impact that vivid and powerful music can have on motivating users to perform their best, and designed Fitbit Flyer to a very high-quality audio performance specification, enabling it to push the envelope for how good a pair of wireless headphones can sound so you can push yourself even further during your workouts.
How do you balance aesthetic choices with performance?
To address our users’ request for audio quality and comfort, we took special care and discipline in our approach to both the design and acoustic system. The component choices and product architecture played a large role in determining audio performance, feature set and influencing how well the product fit on the body.
Fitbit Flyer was designed to maintain a unique, compact form with a customizable and integrated fit that sits comfortably and securely inside the ear for best comfort, fit and sound quality. Interchangeable ear tips and wings or fins allow the user to personalize the fit for optimal comfort, secure fit and sound quality. To withstand the toughest workouts, a special, protective hydrophobic nano coating was applied to make Fitbit Flyer rain, splash and sweatproof.
The product design is georganic—geometric and organic—to create a balance of comfort and precision. What this means is that the initial read is geometric and precise, but a closer look reveals a softness in the forms, such as subtle curvatures in the silhouette and surfaces that are slightly inflated. The elements that touch the body are soft to create a comfortable, high-quality fit.
What’s one thing you wanted to do design-wise but weren’t able to because it negatively affected performance?
For a product that is worn in the ear, it is beneficial to make it as small as possible for comfort. However, the drivers within headphones require volume for great audio performance. With Flyer, we ultimately achieved a great balance of the two.
When you look across the headphone space, where does this headphone fit?
Fitbit Flyer was designed as a fitness-focused solution for audio that provides users with motivation to reach their health and fitness goals. What differentiates Fitbit Flyer from other wireless headphones on the market is the premium sound quality, durable design and customizable fit, coupled with its seamless integration with the Fitbit ecosystem.
Fitbit Flyer’s acoustic system was precision engineered to offer high quality, clear audio, including features like AAC wireless codec and passive noise isolation. Flyer is also the first pair of headphones to incorporate Waves MaxxAudio technology, which has traditionally been used for audio in hit records, major motion pictures and popular video games. Waves MaxxAudio technology helps us deliver amplified bass and a high-fidelity sound experience in our Power Boost sound profile that provides users with extra motivation.
Fitbit users can now store and play more than 300 songs from their personal music collections, download favorite stations from Pandora as well as Flow from Deezer right on their device. Simply connect a pair of wireless headphones or any Bluetooth speaker, such as Fitbit Flyer, and start listening to phone-free music.
What specific features make your product easy to use? How about to clean?
Fitbit Flyer was built to withstand the toughest workouts, while also offering comfort and versatility for all-day use. Users can seamlessly switch between Fitbit Versa and Fitbit Ionic smartwatches, as well as other Bluetooth devices. Fitbit Flyer also allows users to easily switch between listening to music on their smartwatch to answering a call on their phone, and offers a dual microphone that ensures voice clarity and reduces external noises, such as wind, so you can receive high-quality, hands-free calls in any environment.
How has your design process evolved as Bluetooth has improved?
The maturation of Bluetooth technology allows us to reduce size since less battery power is needed. These advancements also enable us to push the boundaries of materials, such as metals, that are less antenna friendly.