Fitbit’s planned smartwatch hits more snags
Fitbit, months away from the debut of its smartwatch, has lost several people working on the project and fallen behind on its app store — putting in peril the company’s most important product in years.
Hard hit by the sinking popularity of its fitness trackers, Fitbit has bet its future on the smartwatch. But such devices are typically wedded to an ecosystem of compatible devices, apps and services that lure then lock people in.
While Fitbit’s watch can play music and handle payments, according to people familiar with the product, a discussed partnership with Spotify failed to materialize and technical challenges mean the app store may not be ready when the watch arrives this fall.
Many app developers, meanwhile, are unenthusiastic about Fitbit’s watch.
“I’m more focused on the big boys like the Apple Watch and Android Wear,” says Damian Mehers, who developed a version of Evernote for Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch.
“I could consider developing for Fitbit if there was a compelling device and a large enough user base. I think it will be challenging to establish credibility.”
Like many other developers, Mehers says the challenge is exacerbated by the fact that wearable devices still haven’t caught on widely, meaning they’re less desirable to write apps for than a smartphone.
In an emailed statement, Fitbit said the development of the smartwatch and third-party apps “are on track” and that “any claims that the developer program is struggling is false.”
The company said it’s “well positioned to succeed.”
The global wearables market is expected to grow about 20 per cent this year to 125.5 million devices shipped, according to researcher IDC. But Fitbit’s watch will be competing with not just Apple but dozens of cheaper Android products.
Fitbit recently lost its position as the top seller of wearable devices, falling behind Apple and China’s Xiaomi Corp.
Last year, to help jump-start its smartwatch effort, Fitbit acquired technology developed by watch maker Pebble, which shut down after failing to compete in a market that has taken off more slowly than expected.
Pebble developers helped form the core of Fitbit’s smartwatch team in California, but most have since left, according to a person familiar with the situation (although a separate group of Pebble alums in Ottawa remains intact).
Fitbit hasn’t tied all its fortunes to the watch. Engineers are working on sleeker versions of the Charge fitness band, the company’s bestseller, and the Blaze fitness tracker, which includes a large colour display, for next year. The company is also planning an updated version of a weighing scale that syncs data to a smartphone via Bluetooth.