Fitbit has announced plans to go public. Although the firm has first mover advantage in the wearable fitness space, I’m a little skeptical of its long-term prospects. Namely, I think that the days of the single-use device – and especially, wearables – are numbered. As the Apple Watch – and to vastly lesser extents, Android Wear and Pebble – slowly become more accepted, I think that it’s unlikely people will buy dedicated fitness trackers for any reason beyond a very low price or a very high resilience to sweat.
Fitbit’s plans reminds me of another recent IPO: GoPro. Like Fitbit, GoPro is a sports-centric, self-contained product whose functionality can be easily replicated by a smartphone. But I think there is a critical difference between GoPro and FitBit. GoPro has developed a following – and to a certain extent, a lifestyle – that makes the media its fans produce worth almost as much as the devices themselves. Indeed, even if GoPro were to eventually exit the camera business altogether and just make ski-themed apps or iPhone harnesses for extreme sports, the brand would still live on, if only as an extremely successful YouTube channel.
In contrast, I don’t believe that FitBit has an audience that is as large or as devoted as GoPro. And fundamentally, it’s hard to make fitness data sexy in the way that footage of jumping out of helicopters is. I do think that FitBit is a viable business over the next 2-3 years, but I’m skeptical of its long-run prospects, in the face of more refined wearables. Put simply, Nike pulled the Fuelband from the market for a reason, and it wasn’t FitBit. Given the gradual consolidation of connected fitness apps, devices, and sporting goods companies – namely the purchase of MapMyRun by UnderArmour in 2014 – I suspect the FitBit may eventually be an acquisition target for a second-tier fitness player like Adidas or Reebok.