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Why Fitbit’s Health Is Looking Sickly

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Despite my two decades of covering Silicon Valley I’m neither an early adopter nor besotted with the coolest gadgets. I used a BlackBerry until 2012. I got my first Amazon Echo well after its first holiday retail triumph. And I wrote my book about Apple on a PC.

The advantage of not being in the Wirecutter crowd is that you don’t fall in love with products that break your heart by dying before reaching maturity.

That’s why I’m all the more distressed by the drain-circling behavior of Fitbit, a product I find I love more as time goes by. I characterize my Fitbit obsession as a healthy one. I take walks after dinner to make sure I obtain daily 10,000 steps. I fret if my resting heart rate drifts abnormally high. (Altitude and sleeplessness aren’t helpful.) I get in bed earlier if my weekly average is trending down. Colleagues have come to understand my appearance at their end of the office just before the top of the hour doesn’t mean I’m coming to visit; Fitbit has nudged me to take 250 steps.

Sadly, it appears I’m worse than an early adopter. I’m an outlier.

Fitbit reported a horrid quarter Monday, and its shares swooned. It sold 7 million fewer devices in 2017 than the previous year. It is de-emphasizing fitness trackers—the object of my devotion—for smartwatches. The latter is a crowded category, dominated by far better capitalized global companies. Fitbit even lost money in the quarter. When I profiled the San Francisco company’s erstwhile competitor, Jawbone, in 2015, Fitbit bragged about its tight cost controls. Now it is focusing on “managing down expenses.”

Fitbit (FIT) isn’t finished, but it’s looking sickly, a sad commentary for a company whose product makes me feel healthier.

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