Fitbit is definitely building a smartwatch, continues to look to health

By Jonah Comstock
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The hard financial news wasn't good on Fitbit's fourth quarter earnings call: The company's revenue, at $574 million, was down 19.3 percent year-over-year, and down $2 million from the company's projection. It was also the second consecutive quarter that the company missed its earnings target.

Fitbit released a statement a few weeks ago detailing the immediate plan to get earnings back on track: a reorganization designed to save $200 million, which would involve laying off 6 percent of the workforce. On this call, CEO James Park laid out a longer term plan for getting the company back on track. As Park confirmed last month, the company is building a smartwatch, and it could launch it as soon as this year. It's also looking to build something not on the wrist and to expand its entry into health.

“Similar to when we launched our Surge product and expanded the GPS-enabled watch category, we can expand the smartwatch category," Park said. "Even today with a significantly higher average selling price, this adjacent market opportunity more than doubles our addressable market. Our recent acquisitions of assets from Pebble, Vector Watch and Coin added software IP, including a developer platform and SDK, and deep industry expertise which complement and accelerate this effort. In addition, we are looking at developing form factors beyond the wrist to build a full ecosystem of products that support our consumers' health and fitness journey.”

In a follow-up question, an investor asked Park what specifically he meant by smartwatch and whether the Fitbit Surge would qualify. 

"I wouldn't characterize Surge as a smartwatch. I think it was our first foray into the watch category, in general, in particular GPS watches," Park said. "...So what characterizes a Fitbit smartwatch? I would say definitely a focus on health and fitness, a focus on long battery life, broad platform compatibility, and I think our existing brand and large community of users. And given the Pebble acquisition, there is going to be a large emphasis on developer SDK and the developer ecosystem. And if you had looked at the Pebble tools before, they are definitely world-class in terms of developer productivity. So we're excited to see that come out of the product at some point."

Park's statements about Fitbit's future in health were a little more vague. He highlighted that company's integration with UnitedHealthcare's Motion, and said that the company would be looking to expand further into the health plan market with similar deals. He also highlighted their partnership with Medtronic. He also talked a little about future plans in healthcare.

"I think what makes us the most excited is that people know Fitbit as a consumer company and a consumer brand and people might perceive us as kind of a 'nice-to-have'. I think what I'm most excited about is really transforming Fitbit and its products into a must-have. I think that's going to come with more features and other form factors that we develop, it's also going to come from deeper integration into the healthcare ecosystem," Park said.

"I mean you already see all these stories out there about how Fitbit has literally saved people's lives," he continued. "I mean there is almost an article every day about someone seeing irregularities in their heart rate, they've gone and seen their doctor who has put them on some course of treatment, whether it's medications or surgical interventions. I think that shows the promise of connected health and fitness devices have a really profound impacts on people's lives. So that itself is what makes me excited about the future of the company."

Other bits of news from the call, and from the filings that released at the same time:

  • Fitbit finally disclosed the acquisition price for Pebble, and it's even smaller than expected: $23 million. Another Fitbit acquisition, Vector Watch, went for $15 million.
  • Fitbit is outsourcing the production of accessories and will be producing them through partnership and licensing rather than building them in-house.
  • Fitbit is placing a lot of its hopes on Fitstar, the personal training app, built from another acquisition, that it relaunched this year at CES. Fitstar has seen 1.2 million downloads, Park said, and jumped from the 50th highest grossing health and fitness app in the iTunes store to the ninth-highest.
  • Mergers and acquisitions will "definitely play a role" in Fitbit's move into health, Park told one analyst.

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