Rashgate: Another rash move for Fitbit
For smart wristband leader Fitbit, it’s Groundhog Day. Approaching a year after it was forced to pull its Force tracker from the market, Fitbit is again finding itself awash with more complaints that its products give users a rash.
There are three key reasons why the emergence of #Rashgate comes at probably the worst possible time for Fitbit to repeat of its 2014 Force fiasco – which started off the same way, with user complaints about rashes.
The 2015 round of complaints relates to Fitbit’s current flagship product, the Surge. This is going to hurt the company for three reasons.
First, the Apple Watch is weeks away, and will cannibalize sales of all smart wristbands and watches.
Second, the oldest Fitbit products on the market – such as our late, lamented Flex – are now out of warranty, so if our experiences are anything to go by, many Flex owners will now be starting to look for their next wearable.
Third, and perhaps most-damaging still, Rashgate comes amid rumors that Fitbit is preparing for its IPO, to take the privately-held company public, in “early 2015”.
There are of course always rumors swirling around the tech industry, but when they’re carried by Bloomberg, they tend to have more weight …
For publicly-traded companies, incidents like this can cause the stock price to plummet – just look at what happened to even mighty Apple’s stock price after the bungled iOS update last September.
As it primps itself for investors, and prepares to tackle the formidable challenge that the Apple Watch will deliver to its sales, so Fitbit is of course pinning its hopes on its flagship product, the $250 Surge. This is a smart wristband in the sub-smartwatch category, with a digital display able to show some basic notifications carried over from a smartphone, as well as displaying steps, etc.
The last thing Fitbit could have wanted is for user complaints about rashes caused by its products to start hitting the headlines now.
Rashgate will put a big dent in Fitbit’s IPO ambitions. Let’s hope the company has learned some lessons from the way it handled last year’s mess. First, it ignored the noise. Then it tried to trivialize it, by saying cases were rare and isolated. Finally, when the drumbeat became deafeningly loud, it pulled the product.
This was doubly expensive for Fitbit, not only in terms of wasted time and money in developing a product that lasted only a few months, but also in momentum, just as rival trackers with screens were appearing on the market, and of course in reputation. CEO James Park even penned an apologetic letter to Force customers.
Park should think about writing another one, since Rashgate looks like it’s growing in momentum. This week, reports – including some photos – are all over Twitter, with users claiming that their Surge has brought them out in a rash.
For a device “meant to be worn all day and night”, the advice to take it off and give your skin a break means the loss of one of the only USPs against the Apple Watch: battery life. Since it appears that Apple intends for its Watch to be recharged overnight, users are less likely to get a rash from continuous contact with their skin.
This will be a Friday the 13th to remember for Fitbit.