Is Fitbit planning a smartwatch after all?

By Jonah Comstock
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When Fitbit bought Pebble at the end of last year, the evidence seemed against Fitbit branching into real smartwatches: The company explicitly declined to buy Pebble's hardware business or hire any members of Pebble's hardware team. But now Fitbit CEO James Park has confirmed to The Verge that Fitbit is planning to very soon launch its own app store, a sure sign, The Verge thinks, that Fitbit is planning to launch a real, Apple Watch-competing smartwatch.

Park told The Verge that Fitbit would be basing its app store on Pebble's, since Pebble had "worked out a lot of the kinks" and that they planned to launch "as soon as possible". 

“There are so many different applications [our partners] want to write,” he said, “from fitness-related ones to pill reminder applications. And we don’t have the support in place for that right now, or any software infrastructure on our devices to run those apps.”

The Verge draws the line from Fitbit's recent acquisition of Coin to its acquisition of Pebble to this news and concludes that Fitbit is definitely planning to launch a smartwatch, and it's a pretty reasonable conclusion to reach. (Fitbit declined to comment for this story.)

On the other hand, there's still quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, starting with the fact that Fitbit didn't have any interest in Pebble's hardware assets or engineers when it acquired the company last month. 

Furthermore, Park scoffed at the idea of competing with the Apple Watch as recently as last May, when he told the New York Times that, while they would gradually add more features to Fitbit, they had no interest in being seen as a mobile computing platform. “I think one of the general knocks against smartwatches is that people still don’t know what they’re good for, so they’ve crammed everything in," he told the Times at the time.

Indeed, Park has signalled many times that Fitbit is likely to go deeper into the realm of medical devices before it branches out into non-health use cases. In a recent earnings call, he called regulated medical devices "a pretty massive opportunity". In a July 2015 interview with Forbes he was even more explicit, saying ""I don’t think it’s a dichotomy between fitness and health. I think there’s an opportunity to do both and what’s more interesting is a blending of the two. I think part of the success of Fitbit has been the fact that we’ve really tried to consumerize more health and medical-based technologies."

Park's two examples of apps that might go onto a Fitbit app store -- fitness-related apps and pill reminder apps -- suggest a direction Fitbit could be going in, creating a new device that can incorporate apps, but still has a distinctly health and fitness bent.