a few years ago, fitbit was on a roll making a range of low-cost activity monitors that everyone was gifting to their elderly parents. product evangelists were photographed wearing them everywhere. even if you didn’t run for fun, you probably had one to count your daily steps to and from your car. it was ugly but it stood out and told the world that you are an “active person” in your instaface and facegram posts. no matter the reason, they were selling well and growing.
then the apple watch happened.
suddenly, financial analysts everywhere were shouting from their soapblogs, “fitbit needs to fend off apple!” this, despite following up with the many ways apple’s new watch was DOA. ignore their own cowardly hedges and they’re still wrong. unfortunately, nobody in charge of fitbit could see the idiocy of listening to financial analysts who have never successfully managed a business, built anything or led anyone, in their lives. so in this folie à deux, they built a series of devices that began to stray from their core mission, the result being a slow leak of their evangelists as they lost faith in a brand suddenly failing to stay relevant. it was a purely self-inflicted wound.
nobody in charge of fitbit could see the idiocy of listening to financial analysts who have never successfully managed a business, built anything or led anyone
there was absolutely no reason to believe that fitbit had to compete with the apple watch. financial analysts are idiots; just because both products are worn on the wrist doesn’t mean they’re competitors. to make that association is like saying cars and bicycles are competing products because they both operate primarily on paved surfaces. the truth is that ownership need not be exclusive. people can, and do, own both. sadly, the broken logic went that fitbit would become useless since apple watch could track activity, making it redundant, and thus unnecessary.
let’s fully expand on my bicycle (fitbit) vs. car (watch) analogy: the bicycle is simple and does one thing well versus the car that can do far more. they both exist in the realm of transportation but are not direct competitors as few would ever be forced to choose one over the other. they compete for your usage since you can only use one at a time, but they’re not redundant. the car may be great for many situations but the bicycle is perfectly suited for one. a car requires additional expenses to operate while a bicycle requires only physical effort. the learning curve associated with operating a car safely is far steeper than that of a bicycle. if someone is shopping for a bicycle, wouldn’t it be stupid to try selling them on a Prius instead?
widely reported, even to this day, is that the apple watch requires ownership of an iPhone to work. that was just one advantage of fitbit conveniently ignored by both the financial analysts and fitbit leadership. fitbit could have refocused their marketing to capitalize on this advantage of universal compatibility instead of rushing out a poorly executed “do it all” device like the Surge. this device did far more damage than a poor product alone could do as it created a perfect storm, of sorts: it exclaimed to the world that fitbit leadership felt they need to compete with Apple, that they were already behind and were incapable of creating something functional or attractive. desperation is not a marketable feature. the Surge screamed “desperate,” and existed for no good reason but there was still a chance to turn back.
so in this folie à deux, they built a series of devices that began to stray from their core mission
any company with a mission as pure as fitbit’s once was commands a lot of goodwill from their supporters, both the evangelists and the average buyer. before the Surge and thus before the watch, one can barely recall a negative word being printed of them. they stood head a shoulders above their competition, a pool far deeper then with the likes of Samsung (axed), Microsoft (axed), Nike (axed), Jawbone (dead) and Misfit, not to mention the raft of even cheaper devices flowing from China’s shores. fitbit still could have turned it around if they had the presence of mind to see beyond their paranoia. they could have reverted back and recommitted themselves to being the market leader of “the quantified self.” instead, regardless of whether it was continued fear or newfound arrogance, fitbit has chosen to double-down on their mistake. cheering them on are the very same financial analysts now exclaiming that fitbit has “lost their way,” even if it was due to their ill-conceived ideas, lending additional gravity to fitbit’s free-fall.
fitbit could have refocused their marketing to capitalize on their universal compatibility instead of rushing out a poorly executed device like the Surge
it’s clear that their board, plus their largest shareholders, are firmly entrenched in the false premise that the watch is their direct competitor. fear is now driving them to make dumber and dumber decisions, like buying up their competition, in the hope of converting their bicycle into a car. one was a boutique smartwatch startup, based in London, called Vector Watch. they had been in business for just over a year and released a single product. the other is Pebble, accused of being the match that ignited the current smartwatch segment and forever in debt despite hitting the market years ahead of their competition. the former is aimed at the “shabby chic” end of the watch market, focused on design, while the latter produced a painfully plastic trinket. both, however, built their own OS to drive an e-ink display, giving both of their designs long battery life. the tradeoff is that their displays are both notoriously unresponsive, low-res and monochrome.
back to the bicycle vs. car analogy: it’s much faster to remodel and resell an existing car than it is to design and build one from scratch. even more so to manufacture it at scale within a reasonable time frame. the problem is that you can’t turn a bicycle into a car, especially if you plan to just bolt more bicycle parts onto the bicycle. even if you do, eventually you’ll need an engine and a cockpit to operate it from. instead, they’ve spent $38 million on bigger pedals and a trading card to fit between the spokes. at the very least, they managed to take 1.5 competitors out of the market permanently but have managed to only empower Apple further when they released the Blaze.
fitbit fans who worried they had lost their way with the Surge had their fears confirmed with the Blaze. it reinforced the notion that fitbit had no clue how to work with any material that didn’t end in -ubber or -lastic or the vision to design something beautiful for your wrist, despite over a hundred years of examples. even if you were blind to the aesthetics, you were faced with an OS that ranked very low on the autism spectrum.
what’s becoming clear is that fitbit’s executives, board and biggest shareholders seem to want a smartwatch more than their users care for. they’re burning capital trying to provide a device their users couldn’t care less about. people buy fitbit for the simplicity and their best investment would be to make their devices more accurate, more invasive and fashion forward. they’re continuing on this premise that they’re in the same market as watch when they’re clearly not. with watch, Apple managed to steal the middle-aged and older segment away from fitbit. people once bought them in hopes of helping their grandparents get more active and prevent stroking out but now even they are wondering why you gifted them a fitbit instead of an watch. the status symbol has become a punchline either because of their ego, allowed themselves to be deluded by a bunch of financial analysts, or both. remember when human punchline Jeb Bush publicly declared to the most vulnerable of Americans, the mildly educated middle-aged and older, that the watch was a reasonable replacement for affordable healthcare for most Americans? we were all aghast at such a reckless proclamation but fitbit execs should have felt demoralized and defeated at that point; it could have been fitbit so praised had they not sullied their own brand.
the status symbol fitbit once was has become a punchline; whether it was their own ego or allowing themselves to be deluded by a bunch of financial analysts, or both.
fitbit was hoping to sucker punch who they thought was a powerful newcomer to their segment but managed to sucker punch themselves instead. along with a gaggle of financial analysts, they persisted in listening to these proven failures instead of their own customers. their paranoid delusion caused them to chase beyond their market segment with no economic or logical need. if fitbit’s execs are too dimwitted to even know what market segment they’re in and who their competition in that segment is, they deserve their impending bankruptcy. bypassing every opportunity to revert back to success reveals a level of ineptitude in the tech sector last seen during the run-up to the dot com bust. this would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.