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FITBIT FLEX 2
Fitbit Flex 2 Courtesy of Fitbit

Fitbit Adds Social Feed to Keep Users Motivated

Jan 05, 2017

Fitbit introduced several new software and service features on Thursday in an effort to make its best-selling line of fitness trackers more popular with consumers.

The main Fitbit app is sprouting more social networking features, like a feed that mixes company-supplied and user-generated content, while the FitStar workout advisory service is getting a major overhaul. The company, which last announced new hardware in August, did not offer any new devices as part of its CES updates.

After selling more than 54 million fitness trackers, ranging from inexpensive models that mainly count steps to higher-end bands that resemble a smartwatch, Fitbit is looking to boost user engagement. Some 17 million people currently use the company's app daily, Fitbit said.

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Going social in an app can be tough and history is littered with failures like Apple's Ping music network. But Fitbit CEO James Park told Fortune that his users already interact in ways resembling a social network–and always have. The failures "were trying to create networks and assume behaviors that hadn't been proven out," Park told Fortune. "For us, the great thing is pretty much since the inception of the company, there's been a strong social component."

The new news feed in the Fitbit app will allow users to post pictures and brag about their fitness activity to friends along with notices about sponsored fitness events and tips from the company. The app already allows some contacts among friends and the average user has six friends. A widening social circle in the app helps users exercise more, according to Fitbit's data. Users who have one or more friends take an average of 700 more steps per day.

The app update is expected to roll out in March for North American users and around the world over the rest of the year, Fitbit said.

The overhauled FitStar service, which costs $40 a year, will be added to the main Fitbit app. The service already gives workout regimes and coaching tips but will add more personalized advice based on a user's other Fitbit data. If a user went for a five-mile run one day, for example, the service might recommend more of a recovery-oriented workout the next day. Based on a user's activity, Fitbit will start adding recommended workouts under a new "guidance" tab in its main app. The service also added more routines, accompanying music, and two new trainers who offer advice.

The updates to FitStar will be available on Thursday.

Fitbit also announced some new partnerships in its "Works with Fitbit" program, including personalized nutrition service Habit and indoor bike maker Peloton. Park said it is "a little too early to say" how significant the revenue stream from subscription services and licensing fees could ultimately become, but added that it will be "an important part of our strategy to have a paid portion of our business."

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That could ultimately help reignite Fitbit's growth. The company's stock price plummeted 75% last year amid concerns that revenue in the all-important holiday quarter would be barely higher than in 2015, after nearly doubling from 2014 to 2015. Competition from Apple (aapl), with a renewed fitness focus for its watch, Garmin (grmn), and low-cost Asian companies continues to intensify as well.

Fitbit (fit) will introduce new hardware later this year, possibly incorporating the smartwatch software platform it recently acquired from defunct wearable pioneer Pebble or mobile payments capabilities bought from Coin. But CEO Park wasn't giving anything away about that future lineup.

"It's not something we can give guidance on right now," he said. "But these technologies will definitely be in future products."

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