Services are the future of Fitbit. That was the overarching message from an event this week in Manhattan. The small gathering of media outlets found the company spending most of its stage time on software and services, leaving a small window at the end to discuss the launch of a pair of hardware products, the Versa 2 smartwatch and Aria Air scale.
After a decade of leading with hardware, Fitbit has no doubt seen the writing on the wall in the wearables category. It’s true that devices continue to see growth, but with Xiaomi and other Chinese manufacturers devouring the low end of the market and Apple utterly dominating smartwatches, Fitbit is looking at other ways to leverage its presence in fitness.
Fitbit Premium will be a cornerstone of that play. At $10 a month or $80 annually, the company is eyeing a revenue streaming beyond device sales and enterprise/healthcare partnerships. It’s a play that echoes similar moves by companies like Apple, which has seen services and content become an increasingly important part of its revenue model as sales on devices like the iPhone continue to stagnate.
What does $10 a month get you? Custom insights. That’s the promise here. Bespoke health and sleep information that goes deeper than what users of Fitbit’s free app get. The core of the offering is nine guided health and fitness programs, with names like Intro to Healthy Habits, Get More Zzz’s, Habits for Restful Sleep, Get Active, Beginner Running, Run Training, Understand Calories, Kick Your Sugar Habit and Kick Your Salt Habit.
Health has always been core to what Fitbit does, and everyone’s moving to a subscription model anyway, so the offering makes sense on the face of it. But in a world where we’ve already got thousands of monthly subscription services vying for a piece of our electronic deposits, the company’s got a tough road ahead of it convincing consumers to shell out an additional $10 a month.
“The quick pitch is that it’s a one-stop shop that gives you all of what you really need to eat better, become more active, sleep better,” CEO and co-founder James Park told TechCrunch. “And it’s a service that’s tightly integrated with your Fitbit device. And so with a user base of over 27 million active users, definitely for our user base, it’s a really compelling solution.”
The offering promises a better breakdown of Fitbit’s new Sleep Score feature, thousands of video and audio workouts and various gamified offerings designed to better help the wearer move. Perhaps more compelling are a handful of content partners, including Headspace, Daily Burn and Yoga Studio by Gaiam that supplement Fitbit’s own premium content. Of course, Fitbit Premium isn’t designed to replace any of these services outright and will instead include a selection of content from each.
As ever, I’ll reserve full judgement until we get hands-on time with the service, but my concern is the same as with many fitness content services. Much of the data collected requires user input. I suspect the reminder of a monthly fee will go a ways toward convincing users to keep up, but as with so many of these, accuracy comes down to one key fact: You can’t lie to a fitness tracker, but you can lie to an app.
“A lot of the value that we’re trying to provide as well is that the programs provide and adapt dynamically without you having to really do anything,” says Park. “And we’re trying to provide more nudges and notifications that remind you, throughout the course of the day or through your program, what things you should be doing.”
Getting people to pay for a premium version of content they’ve been offered for free is always a heavy lift — and I say that as someone who works in publishing. I haven’t seen a magic bullet in the Fitbit Premium pitch so far, but I’d be more than happy to be convinced otherwise.
The service has already been piloted in Australia and New Zealand. It will start rolling out to U.S. users this month and will be available in 17 English-speaking countries this fall, with more languages arriving next year.
The service will be exclusively targeted at Fitbit users at launch, but Park says the plan is to move toward a more platform-agnostic model going forward, a move that could foretell a further move away from a hardware-revenue model.
“Long-term, we see Fitbit Premium as something that can be used with other devices as well, whether it’s an Apple Watch, Garmin, etc.” says Park. “But initially we’re focused on our existing users, because we have a lot of them.”