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This week, as you may have read, the wearable fitness device company Fitbit filed for a $100 million IPO. According to figures from the NPD Research Group and reported in The Guardian, Fitbit accounts for 68% of the connected health and fitness market (wearables), and last year sold almost eleven million devices, garnering $745 million in revenues. The company is in great health: 2014 sales were almost triple those of 2013, and for the first quarter of 2015 sales are three times what they were in Q1 of 2014.
But as Fitbit itself notes in its IPO filing, it faces significant and ever-growing competition – not least from the new Apple Watch. Since the Apple Watch launched, I’ve been struck by how many of the reviews have focused on its health and fitness features. For example, this report in The Wall Street Journal claims that the “Apple Watch succeeds where the fitness trackers have failed” by turning it into a useful, accurate device, and one which is stylish enough to be worn the whole day through.
As I wrote at the time of the Apple Watch launch, it’s crushingly hard to beat Apple on aesthetics, less so on functionality and user experience, and right now the Apple Watch still has a few kinks to work out. Case in point, while the writer of the WSJ piece enjoys being able to go for a run and listen to her iTunes with just the watch, she concedes that by leaving her iPhone at home, the accuracy of the distance tracking is affected, as are the music apps available. So far Apple is staying tight-lipped about how many watches have sold, but clearly it would be unwise to underestimate Apple’s increasing presence in the connected health and fitness wearable technology space.
There have been many examples of one-time successful products being swept away by Apple products’ ever-evolving capabilities (remember the days of the Flip camera) but from this viewpoint, Fitbit doesn’t seem to be one of them. From the accessible pricing – the entry-level Fitbit Zip wireless activity tracker comes in at $59.95 – to the wide user support (apps, dashboards, etc.) to its long battery life and intuitive user experience, Fitbit knows its market and isn’t afraid to innovate.
From a brand perspective, I think that Fitbit has been highly successful at finding cultural relevance and inhabiting that place well. They have done what so many brands seek to do and found an emotional connection with its audience (Apple is of course a master of this as well). This was captured most compellingly by a David Sedaris article for The New Yorker, and muses on the surprising, almost anthropomorphic, dominance it came to have on his life. It almost feels (as Hoover once achieved for vacuum cleaners) that Fitbit has become the brand name, or shortcut (Apple Watch aside), for all of these kinds of wearable fitness trackers.
As the wearable technology health and fitness industry continues to expand, the need to engage with consumers beyond functionality, as demonstrated so well by Fitbit, is something all brands need to consider.
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