Fitbit cancels the Force: Our analysis
Disappointing news from Fitbit that it has decided to withdraw the Force smart wristband from sale – in a move that also provides an insight into the unforgiving pace for market share between wearable technology firms right now.
Privately-held Fitbit is claiming 2013 market share leadership for sales of smart wristbands, with the best-selling Flex and the US / Canada only Force, which was announced in the fall – see WTW’s coverage here.
Just four short months after its launch and the Force is dead and off the market, with Fitbit issuing a statement yesterday (February 22) that it is withdrawing the Force from sale and offering a full refund to all customers. Cue some deja vu in the wearables industry, with pioneer Jawbone forced to pull the plug on the original UP wristband in late 2012 due to quality issues.
It looks as if issues of a different kind – skin allergies – are the driving force behind Fitbit’s dramatic decision. The move will surely put a dent in the company’s aspirations for a megabucks IPO later in 2014. It also explains why Fitbit hadn’t yet managed to launch Force into markets outside the US and Canada, as we noted last month.
Introducing Force was a bold move by Fitbit. In a bid for market leadership, the company added new functionality such as an OLED display and an altimeter to a smart wristband, combined with the slogan: “Push yourself further with Force”. Fitbit also sold the Force alongside the simpler and lower-priced Flex.
Clearly it’s a very dynamic environment working at Fitbit (they offer employees ‘perks’ such as “treadmill desks and weekly fitness classes”) and you can bet that the decision to pull the plug on Force was not taken lightly by the management team. This is especially since bringing Force to market was funded by Fitbit’s $43m pre-IPO venture capital funding round last August. Such a catastrophic failure (this is fair comment, the company has killed a product while still in its infancy) is surely going to hurt investor confidence.
Fitbit is sticking to the “few and isolated” statement regarding reports of user allergies and saying that fewer than 1 in 50 users have experienced allergic reactions to the Force, but in an open letter, CEO James Park says this is “enough to take further action”. The Force is showing up as “currently not available” and Amazon.com has already followed suit.
What’s really telling comes at the end. Park states: “Rest assured we’re working on our next-generation tracker…” – no surprises there but you can feel the pressure: the Force is dead, long live the Flex – you can hear the backers asking “Yes, but the Flex is more than a year old … what do we have in the pipeline?” This also reconfirms that smart wristbands already have a sub-12 month lifecycle.
With such short product lifecycles, it seems that ‘basic hygiene’ steps that were once seen as mandatory – such as quality control and usability testing – may have been short-circuited in order for a faster time to market.
With smartband manufacturers engaged in such a headlong rush to market, Apple’s seemingly slow launch of the rumored iWatch starts to make more sense. As this blog previously noted:
“…the one thing you can expect is that the iWatch will be nothing short of amazing.”