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The History Of Fitbit: Its Important Past And Coming Future

  • By Laura
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The History Of Fitbit: Its Important Past And Coming Future

It's hard to imagine the fitness world without Fitbit now. How else would we challenge our coworkers to get the most steps in Workweek Hustle challenges, monitor our heart rate, and track all of our fitness goals? Fitbit is a major player in health tech now, but it had a pretty humble start back in 2007. In just over a decade, it's gone from the dream of its two founders to one of the most popular fitness devices on the planet. If you've ever been curious about the history of Fitbit, this is the post for you. We're going to take a look at how the company got its start and how it's changed over the years. We'll also give some of our predictions for the places Fitbit could go in the future -- with so much success already, there are a lot of promising opportunities ahead for the company. Read on to learn more about the history and future of one of the world's most popular fitness devices.

The History of Fitbit

Before Fitbit was a global powerhouse, it was just another startup hoping to make it big. Fitbit was founded towards the tail-end of the 2000s by James Park and Eric Friedman, who are both still part of the company's leadership team. Let's take a look at how the company has evolved over the years, from 2007 to the present day.

Founding

Believe it or not, it all started because of the Wii. Yep, the Nintendo Wii is partially responsible for the Fitbit on your wrist. The accelerometers in the Wii-motes -- the same technology that lets you feel like you're literally serving a tennis ball in a game of Wii Sports -- helped Park and Friedman realize the potential of that kind of technology. To help develop their new idea, they raised $400,000. This was pretty easy for them to do, given their backgrounds. Eric Friedman got both his bachelor's and his master's degrees in computer science from Yale before starting his professional career. James Park, meanwhile, went to Harvard to study computer science but dropped out before he got his degree. Plus, Fitbit was far from the first time that the two worked together. In 2000, they helped to create Epesi Technologies, before leaving one year later to co-found Wind-Up Labs. They sold that within three years to CNET, where they worked for just two years before creating Fitbit in 2007. You know, no big deal. Even with all of that experience behind them, though, they struggled to get Fitbit off the ground. The $400K that they raised wasn't enough to create even a prototype, so they were stuck going around to investors without much to actually prove they had something bankable. Luckily, though, people could tell that Park and Friedman had a really great idea. Eventually, in 2008, they announced their idea at a tech conference expecting to get no more than fifty pre-orders. They ended up walking away with two thousand orders in just one day. There was just one problem...even though the two partners had a ton of software and programming knowledge, neither of them had any experience with manufacturing. It would take them until 2009 to figure out how to manufacture the first Fitbit, which was finally available for purchase in September of that year.

Attracting Attention

At that point, the Fitbit looked a lot different than the models you can get today. Instead of the wristwatch design that most people think of, it looked more like a small MP3 player that you could clip onto your clothing. It tracked how much you moved (steps were the biggest thing back then, too), how much sleep you got, and the number of calories you burned. There was no way to connect it to your smartphone, especially since there were still lots of other types of phones on the market in 2009. Instead, it came with a wireless base that synched with your Fitbit whenever you came within ten feet. The first Fitbit gained popularity super quickly. When it first launched, they sold five thousand orders and had requests for another twenty thousand. One year later, in September 2010, Fitbit had raised eight million dollars from various investors. They'd come a long way from that initial round of $400,000. As they started designing their new tracker, the company also started making its tech available in big stores across the country. They teamed up with Best Buy so that people could walk into a store and buy a Fitbit, instead of having to order it online.

Adding New Trackers

Two years after you could buy the first ever Fitbit, the company launched its second tracker. This one was called the Fitbit Ultra, and it started to add some of the features we use so much today -- like fitness challenge badges and an altimeter to track the flights of stairs you've climbed. This was also the first tracker that came with an iPhone app, which let you track how many calories you consumed and set a weekly goal for activities. That was just the beginning, though. 2012 was a pretty huge year for the company. In just one year, Fitbit:
  • unveiled their first product that wasn't wearable technology, the Aria weight scale
  • announced its plan to raise twelve million dollars
  • succeeded in raising said twelve million dollars
  • launched two new trackers, the Fitbit One and Fitbit Zip
It was clear that the company was really starting to take off, and both customers and investors were taking notice. 2013 would see the biggest change so far, though -- the company finally unveiled its first tracker that could be worn on your wrist. This was the Fitbit Flex, which would pretty quickly become the company's flagship product. They did roll out another tracker later that year, the Fitbit Force, but it was quickly recalled after customers started complaining about irritation from the band. The Force was the first tracker to have an LED display that could rotate between different screens, like time, your steps, and calories burned. We wouldn't see that display come back until Fitbit launched the Charge in 2014. Versions of the Charge are still the company's most popular tracker today.

Going Public

In early 2015, it seemed like things were going pretty dang well for the company. They had made $745 million in sales over the course of 2014 and controlled just over forty percent of the market. In early 2015, they sold another four million devices. They lost a little bit of their market share to lower-priced competitors and the introduction of the Apple Watch, but the company wasn't hurt overall. In May 2015, they announced their plans to file an IPO -- the first wearable fitness technology company to do so. They went public in June 2015 and their share price shot up almost immediately, from $20 per share to $51. That wasn't sustainable, though. Even though the company continued to sell well, the share prices slid below its IPO. To anyone not checking out the stock market, though, Fitbit is still king -- especially since their recent launch of the Charge 3.

Fitbit In The Future

So after all this success, where does the company go from here? As of 2018, they've got a lot of different products on their roster. They offer two smartwatches (Ionic and Versa), five different trackers, the Aria scale, Fitbit Coach, and tons of different accessories for you to customize your products. The company has its eyes on expanding in a few key areas, though, and we think there are a few things you should keep an eye on when it comes to the future of Fitbit.

New Ways To Use Fitbit Data

Back in 2015, co-founder Park mentioned that he wanted to see the company expand into areas like corporate healthcare. They've done just that with Fitbit Care, a platform that combines health coaching and virtual care through the new Fitbit Plus app. The platform is still really new since it was just launched in September. As more users join, expect to see a growing number of people use Fitbit to not just track their health trends, but create customized care plans. It's a pretty bold and unique move. People have already been using Fitbit as a way to lose weight or quit smoking, but Fitbit Care could see more people using the tech to manage conditions like diabetes or depression. That's a way more complex way to use Fitbit data, something we haven't really seen play out long-term yet. It's also a step up from the previous programs that Fitbit has rolled out, like being the go-to choice for corporate wellness initiatives. Next, look for hints that Fitbit data will be used in things like clinical research trials. It's a very real possibility.

Privacy Concerns

There's one thing that might cause issues for the company as it continues to reinvent itself to stay competitive each year. It has faced privacy issues in the past, and if it hasn't done enough to prevent them, they're just going to get worse as the company grows. Your normal medical records are legally protected, so if you end up in court for some reason, prosecutors can't subpoena your medical records to make their case. Fitbit health data, on the other hand, doesn't have that same legal protection. Fitbit data has already been used (voluntarily) in court before, so the stage has already been set. There's a legal precedent for someone to ask for Fitbit data to be included in a variety of different court cases. People are starting to get a little wary of just how much data companies like Google and Facebook are storing. They're even more suspicious of how that data is being used. Fitbit has a strong privacy policy and is very open about their efforts to make sure that user data is protected, but they'll have to be super diligent to make sure that they stay ahead of the curve.

Competition

Here's the biggest thing that has potential to affect the future of Fitbit -- they're not the only thing on the market anymore. Fitbit used to control a huge share of the market when it came to wearable fitness tech, but other companies have started to realize how popular the idea is. The biggest competition, of course, is the Apple Watch, which debuted right around the time that Fitbit went public. For loyal Android users, they can choose to...well...wear the Android Wear. (It's not the most creative name.) People who are looking for more serious, sport-specific tracking might choose to go for something a little bit more sophisticated, like a Garmin watch. Even companies who aren't necessarily in the fitness game are creeping in on Fitbit's territory. It's easy to add activity tracking as a feature to an existing product. So then the obvious question is...what's going to make Fitbit stand out? Since Fitbit mainly exists as an activity tracker, it has to make sure that it's constantly ahead of everyone else.

New Fitbit Technology

Of course, there's also going to be plenty of new and exciting Fitbit technology to look forward to. The latest tracker that they've released, the Charge 3, improves basically everything about the Charge range of trackers (it's finally waterproof!) while still keeping all the features customers loved. It was available to order as of October 7, so expect to hear your fitness friends debating getting a new tracker. Next up, be on the lookout for an Ionic 2. The first Ionic tried to combine a smartwatch and a fitness tracker to mixed reviews. Fans are hoping that an Ionic 2 is on the horizon that will work out all the kinks and be the fantastic product they've been waiting on.

Get The Fitbit Tech That's Right For You

Since the first Fitbit launched in 2009, the company has definitely redefined how we track our activity and stay on top of our fitness goals. If the history of Fitbit is anything to go by, we're pretty sure that they're going to continue being a company to watch in the years to come. Looking for a way to update the Fitbit tech you already have instead of buying a new release? Check out the Fitbit accessories available in our online store.
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