SEE ALSO: The Apple Watch Is Poised to Wipe Out Fitness Trackers
The product — intended for more serious athletes, not necessarily casual health enthusiasts — is priced at $249 and will launch in early 2015, around the time we’re expecting to see the Apple Watch debut.
While Fitbit is stepping into “smarter” territories, co-founder and CEO James Park told Mashable the company doesn’t have any plans to launch a fully functional smartwatch of its own — at least not one that would compete with the likes of Samsung, Motorola and Apple.
The reason? He’s not sold on them.
“We still think that the smartwatch in general lacks a purpose in life and that is what is holding consumers back a little with adoption,” Park said.“We still think that the smartwatch in general lacks a purpose in life and that is what is holding consumers back a little with adoption,” Park said. “We think something like the Fitbit Surge that is focused on fitness with the top features of a smartwatch, like caller ID, is the best blending of both worlds.”This is a bold statement for a CEO who’s working in an evolving industry. Many experts believe the Apple Watch is poised to wipe out fitness trackers. Just like e-readers were, for the most part, replaced by the iPad and other tablets that could do the same thing, everything you might find embedded within a wristband fitness tracker will ultimately be possible with the Apple Watch. But smartwatches do even more: they typically let you check email, answer calls and even watch videos directly from the device.
Earlier this year, Nike famously folded its Fuelband fitness tracker hardware division, laying off up to 55 people of its 70-member team, as a part of a greater effort to focus on software that will likely end up in the Apple Watch and its HealthKit platform. Many have wondered if Nike’s move was a harbinger of a hardware shakeout in wearables — and what that would mean for Fitbit and others.
But Park said Fitbit is staying focused on the fitness category and will continue to crank out hardware, even when companies like Nike are hitting the brakes.
“Hardware remains a critical piece of our strategy and being able to control the software lends itself to the user experience, too,” he said. “We want products to track your whole day in a way that can’t be done with just a smartphone app. We want to make sure whatever consumers need and want, we will be there, so we have to continue to evaluate everything along the way.”
Fitbit has been using the word “evaluating” often these days, taking a cautious stance before jumping into new platforms and categories. Earlier this month, the company said it was still evaluating Apple’s HealthKit platform and that integration with the health and fitness hub wouldn’t be coming anytime soon.
Days later, reports circulated that Apple would be taking Fitbit devices off its store shelves. Could Apple be punishing Fitbit for its reluctancy to join HealthKit? (Other wearable companies like Jawbone have already signed up as early partners.)
While the company’s hesitancy is a surprise to some, Park’s backseat approach is strategicWhile the company’s hesitancy is a surprise to some, Park’s backseat approach is strategic: Fitbit occupies 69% of marketshare, according to NPD Group. Considering the wristband tracking industry as a whole brought in about $330 million in sales last year — and that number is expected to get a nice bump in 2014 — Fitbit is making sure it continues to dominate its niche market before widening the net.As of June, the smartwatch market totaled only about $96 million in sales within a nine-month period, and there hasn’t been a main flagship product that has been dominating sales. The Apple Watch is expected to kick the category into high gear, but until then, it’s still unknown just how much the smartwatch category will take off in the coming years and if consumer adoption will be as strong as experts believe.
It’s clear, however, that Fitbit wants to remain in good standing with Apple: “I love Apple products and they’ve been great partners,” said Park, adding that he welcomes Apple into the space as a way to drive more attention to Fitbit products along the way.
There are still a number of things that set Fitbit apart from Apple and the upcoming watch. Beyond the fact that Fitbit doesn’t make smartwatches, Fitbit products range in price from $50 to $249 and give users options. Fitbit products can last anywhere from five to 10 days on a charge, whereas Apple CEO Tim Cook said this week that the Apple Watch will likely last only one day before a charge is needed.
Plus, Fitbit products work across multiple platforms: not just iOS, but Android and Windows, too. Apple is focused on its own products and software, and this can alienate a large portion of the population. After all, Android users make up a large majority of smartphone users.
Fitbit may need to innovate sooner rather than later, but it appears that the company is staying open to new ideas while remaining focused on its core products until there’s more information about the direction the industry is taking.
“The launch of the new products ties into the strategy and belief that fitness tracking and wearables don’t have a one-size-fits-all model,” Park said. “We’re staying consistent with our goals and it seems to be working.”