Fitbit's HealthKit Gamble Makes Good Business Sense, for Now

As more companies join the HealthKit platform, Fitbit's decision to stay out of Apple's fitness tracking ecosystem looks like a shot in the foot, especially considering how vocal former Fitbit loyals have been about switching to competitor's products. That wait-it-out decision may, however, be the smartest move Fitbit could make.

Fitbit sitting out HealthKit is a smart move, for nowFitbit sitting out HealthKit is a smart move, for now

When Apple first introduced HealthKit in 2014 as part of iOS 8, the company promised a unified platform where devices from any manufacturer could potentially tie in and share health and fitness tracking data in a unified interface. Developers simply need to hook into Apple's HealthKit APIs and the companion Health app does the rest.

If that sounds familiar, you're probably already a Fitbit user. Fitbit's own platform has done exactly that for years and helped build the company into the standard for fitness tracking. Thousands of people have years worth of fitness tracking data locked into Fitbit's platform, and a long list of devices are feeding heart rates, weight, walking distance, bike rides, and more into Fitbit accounts.

Next: Fitbit wants to see the value in HealthKit

Fitbit on HealthKit: Maybe Later

Fitbit's official stance, which company representatives reiterated to The Mac Observer at CES 2015, is that it is evaluating HealthKit to decide if supporting Apple's platform is a smart move. That's been the company's position since shortly after HealthKit was shown off for the first time.

For Apple customers, the choice seems simple: Support HealthKit so we can see our Fitbit data in Apple's own Health app. Don't support HealthKit, and our next Fitness tracker will come from competitors like Misfit and Withings.

The logic seems fairly straight forward in that if Fitbit doesn't support HealthKit it's going to lose customers and marketshare. Apple has already pulled Fitbit products from its retail and online stores, and that no doubt is having some impact on the company's bottom line.

Fitbit willing to wait out HealthKitWhen we're deep in Apple's ecosystem, it's easy to assume losing those sales will have a significant impact on Fitbit, but it's more likely that dip is fairly small. Compared to BestBuy, WalMart, Target, REI, Amazon, and other retailers, Apple's Fitbit sales are likely relatively small. Those other retailers are also more likely to be a first destination when choosing a fitness tracker because they tend to be closer and more commonly associated with fitness activities or small electronic accessory purchases.

In other words, losing sales through Apple probably doesn't really matter to Fitbit.

Fitbit representatives said the company hasn't seen a drop in sales following Apple's HealthKit introduction, which implies consumers aren't choosing competing HealthKit-compatible devices in significant numbers. Without a real hit to Fitbit's bottom line, there isn't much incentive to support a competing fitness tracking platform, at least from a business perspective.

Right now, it seems like Fitbit's position is that it's looking at what's best for the company and isn't concerned about what its customers want. Considering that decision isn't negatively impacting the company's bottom line, that's probably a perfectly reasonable stance—at least for now.

The big unknown in Fitbit's strategy is Apple Watch, Apple's own take on the fitness tracker/smartwatch market, which will ship sometime this spring. As a fitness tracker, it doesn't offer as much data collection as even the most basic Fitbit device, plus it requires daily charging. As a smartwatch, however, it will do much more than Fitbit's new US$249 Surge Super Watch.

If consumers flock to Apple Watch at the expense of Fitbit sales, that could change the company's position on HealthKit support, and that's where the "we're evaluating" stance really makes sense. Fitbit isn't openly saying it doesn't plan to support HealthKit, so if it does at some point, there won't be any backtracking to explain away the HealthKit-is-bad-but-now-it's-good position.

Waiting also means Fitbit can watch and see how supporting HealthKit works out for other companies. If HealthKit pays off for competitors, Fitbit can join in, and its late comer status won't matter thanks to its strong market position.

That said, Fitbit needs to play its cards right or risk alienating long time loyal customers. To start, Fitbit should work on finding a way to present its wait-and-see tactic as something that's in customer's best interests. Addressing unhappy customers who are ready to jump ship over HealthKit would be a nice move, too.

Until third-party HealthKit support really takes off, Fitbit won't be facing any serious competition from Apple. Without that competition, there isn't any reason for Fitbit to extend beyond its own platform, or at least any reason that goes beyond the emotional response from customers. Like it or not, sitting out on HealthKit is probably the best move Fitbit can make for now.