Fitbit slims down
Over the past month, Fitbit appears to have begun removing features and apps from its ecosystem of devices. The news started with some third-party apps, such as Pandora and Deezer and, more recently, news that the company is planning to remove adventure challenges and open groups in late March. But perhaps the biggest change is the anticipated removal of WiFi support for features such as streaming music and map downloads. The moves could, to a large extent, be driven by efficiencies of support: lesser used features can create a significant overhead for maintaining the apps. But a more likely explanation is that Google is looking to create a clearer differentiation between the Fitbit device portfolio and Google’s Pixel Watch.
The NPD Take:
- Reducing features on Fitbit devices is a risky strategy. While many of these changes may not be noticed by current customers (assuming that they do not use these features of course) it creates a perception in the market that the Fitbit brand is being devalued. As a result, it will create some fear and uncertainty among potential customers. This could drive these customers towards the Pixel Watch, but it is just as likely to push them towards alternative brands – including Apple.
- In many respects, these cuts highlight the key challenge for any smartwatch vendor that has its own, closed, OS, rather than being part of a larger ecosystem, such as Wear OS, that drives a larger number of apps at a far lower overhead cost. Maintaining a strong array of apps in a closed environment is costly, not just in terms of persuading the app vendors onto the platform in the first place, but ensuring a constant flow of upgrades to keep the apps current. This is precisely the challenge that Microsoft faced with its Windows Mobile OS: getting a large and diverse range of apps to remain competitive.
- There is, of course, some valid logic behind creating a cohesive portfolio of Fitbit + Google that results in a strong range of devices from a basic step counter all the way to an advanced smartwatch. The challenge for Google will be in how it gets to that end goal without losing the trust of its customers.