Fitbit CEO talks competing (and not competing) with the Apple Watch

By Jonah Comstock
01:36 pm

The Apple Watch commercially launched just over a year ago, and in that time there's one question that's been asked a number of times: Is it a Fitbit competitor? Will multipurpose smartwatches ultimately kill single-purpose fitness trackers? And recently a different line of questions has emerged, about whether consumers need a general purpose smartwatch at all.

Fitbit CEO James Park told the New York Times in an article published yesterday that he doesn't see the Apple Watch as a threat. He told the Times that comparisons to Apple don't bother him, because he thinks the two companies have taken opposite approaches to wristworn computing: Fitbit started with one purpose and has gradually added other functions, whereas Apple Watch set out to be a multi-function device.

"We look at it from a consumer point of view,” Park told the Times, adding that Apple Watch “is a computing platform, but that’s really the wrong way to approach this category from the very beginning.”

The problem with Apple's approach, Park says, is that without one strong reason to own an Apple Watch, it's not as sticky or indispensable to customers.

“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.

Since the Apple Watch launched, multiple market reports have shown the device underperforming against Fitbit, despite Apple being a considerably larger company. But according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, it's too early to call the Apple Watch a flop: in fact, from Apple's perspective the device is just getting off the ground.

"Today, to put it in perspective, you can buy Apple Watch in 14,000 locations. You can buy the iPhone in over 200,000," Cook told Jim Cramer on a rare Mad Money appearance last night. "So we’re still in learning mode. We’re learning fairly quickly though, and we know a lot more than we did a year ago, and you’ll see the Apple Watch get better and better."

Cook didn't address the Fitbit specifically, but he did defend the Apple Watch against detractors, arguing that it would eventually be as indispensable as the iPhone.

"If you look at all the things Apple has done over time, at the time they were done they were rarely ever seen like they were in retrospect. I think the Watch would be like that too," he said. "If you look at the iPod, it wasn’t viewed as a success. But today it’s viewed as an overnight success. The iPhone was the same way. People were writing about ‘there’s no physical keyboard, obviously no one would want it’. So I think in a few years, people will look back and people will say ‘how could I have ever thought about not wearing this watch?’ because it’s doing so much for you, and then it will be viewed as being an overnight success."


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