Fit­bit’s planned smart­watch hits more snags

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MARK GURMAN AND SELINA WANG Bloomberg

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.

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