Fitbit’s rival to Apple Pay is launching in the UK on Tuesday, but it will only be initially available to customers of the tiny challenger bank Starling Bank, which gained its banking licence last year.
Fitbit Pay is available on the new Fitbit Ionic, the company’s first smartwatch, which went on sale in the UK on October 1.
The payments system links the user’s wearable smartwatch to their Starling Bank account, allowing them to pay with contactless on their wrist, similar to Apple Pay which was launched on the Apple Watch in 2015.
Starling Bank, a mobile bank which offers money management and payment tracking through its app, is also the first UK bank to launch with Fitbit Pay, Apple Pay and Android Pay.
While Fitbit Pay will now be available for UK users a little under a month after the Ionic went on sale, its banking partnerships are far more limited than those secured by the Apple and Android mobile payment systems on launch.
Fitbit Pay will only be available for the small number of Starling Bank customers, which only opened its app beyond a handful of staff and product testers in March, compared to the millions of potential customers who could use Apple Pay on its UK launch.
At launch, Apple Pay on the Apple Watch was available on NatWest, Nationwide, Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander, Ulster Bank and MBNA when it was introduced to the UK.
Android Pay, meanwhile, which is available on Android smartphones and a handful of Android smartwatches, was available with Royal Bank of Scotland, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, M&S Bank, MBNA and Nationwide when it launched in the UK in 2016.
Starling Bank was opened up to its first customers in March this year. The challenger bank is smartphone-based, giving users a current account and spending card that can track payments in the app, while users can set up direct debit or one-off payments.
A Fitbit spokesman said the company is in discussions with more UK banks to expand its Fitbit Pay offering.
The slow deployment of its smartwatch payment system has thrown up issues for buyers of the £299 Fitbit Ionic, with concerns appearing on the company’s message boards and social media.
One Fitbit Ionic owner wrote: “I feel a little bit cheated by this watch as it doesn’t do what is advertised, I hope Fitbit actually pull through with this one or there are going to be a lot of these returned.”