What Fitbit Needs

It is simple, Fitbit needs to recapture some of the magic they first introduced.

When I first used the Fitbit one there was a sweet element of wonder that tagged along with the little device. Sure, pedometers have been around for a long time, but they weren’t like the Fitbit One. No, this thing was beautiful, like a little pebble in a stream that had been shaped over years.

Then there was all the stuff the little thing could do! It could track my steps for a whole week, it synced without me searching for and connecting some outdated cable to a PC. I could see my results on my phone or on the web or compete with my friends. Suddenly walking was healthy and social. At the time I shared a house with some friends and we all had a Fitbit. The weekly competitions were a huge success. We would walk around the house endlessly trying to stay ahead of each other.

Though hundreds of pedometers came before it… Fitbit made walking cool again.

Since then millions of people have bought one of their wrist models yet the company’s stock is suffering. Fitbit went public, they opened near $30 a share and skyrocketed to $50. In May of 2017 Fitbit is trading for $5 a share. They are the market when it comes to fitness wearables, their sales have grown tremendously, yet their stock has dropped over 80% in two years.

So what happened?

Some would argue that the Apple Watch and the rise of Android Wear has added a lot of competition. They would add that Fitbit is ultimately doomed. I think the issues are deeper. Since the Fitbit One their products have been uninspired.

The Flex was an ugly, featureless wrist strap. The Surge was a bulky, over-engineered and very limited pseudo smartwatch. The Charge HR was a step forward in design but it was ultimately plagued by the same allergy and poor quality issues. The Alta feels like little more than a luxury item. The Blaze was a lackluster copy of a smartwatch without any of the smartwatch features.

I own a surge. The wrist strap has broken three times from normal wear. The screen fogs up and the buttons stop working. The feelings this model inspired are the opposite of the Fitbit One. Instead of wondering how they managed to pack so much into such a little thing; I find myself asking how a rugged sportwatch is so featureless and so prone to breaking.

The Charge HR2 is the closest they’ve gotten to magic lately but it faces stiff competition and it has to face the reputation of terrible straps the prior products have created.

To Fitbit’s credit their software platform continues to be strong and ultimately what is keeping most people with the brand.

So how does Fitbit get its magic back?

I recently tried a Pebble Time 2. I wore the Surge on one wrist and the Pebble on the other. I was floored with how much and how versatile the Pebble is. It doesn’t have every app but the ones it does have are beautiful and functional. The calendar is great, the notifications are fast, the messaging is extremely useful and it does it with a package that is half the weight and size of the Surge.

Fitbit seems to be on the right track. The company bought Pebble in 2016. They also bought a second company that has technology for payments from a wearable. If they can take the apps that really make a watch better (checking in, notifications, calendar, GPS navigation, music control) and focus on making those great with a beautiful hardware package that can get more than a couple days of battery life then they have a hope.

They need to give their smartwatch a purpose and focus on making apps that enhance that purpose.

They don’t need the giant library of apps that android wear and the apple watch have.That kind of focused package is entirely missing from the smartwatch market right now.

A beautiful, durable, waterproof smartwatch that can give you 4–7 days of battery, can double as a notification and exercise screen and has a couple dozen really useful apps would destroy the current wearables market.

A lot is riding on the rumored HIGGS project. Many are expecting an updated Blaze with some of the smartwatch features from their recent acquisitions. The blueprints for something magical are there.

Will Fitbit be the next Blackberry/Palm or will they regain control of the wearables market?