Fitbit throws Pebble owners a bone with six more months of support

It’s probably little consolation for Pebble devotes who’ve slowly watched the hardware startup sink into oblivion, but Fitbit’s offering up a good will gesture by extending support for the smartwatch’s ecosystem for another six months.

Those who’ve been clutching onto their crowdfunded wearable for dear life will be able to keep the product up and running through June 30 of this year. Fitbit is throwing users the life line, all while attempting to convince them to get on board with the Ionic — the closest the devices have to a director successor.

On that day, the company will discontinue support for the Pebble app store, forum, voice recognition functionality and sms and email, among others, essentially rendering the device a shiny bit of plastic.

After snapping up Pebble back in-late 2016, Fitbit announced that it would be end-of-lifing the startup’s products, and only continuing support through the end of 2017. Fitbit’s purchase had little to do with hardware, instead focusing on Pebble’s SDK, as the company started work on its own native app store for its first true smartwatch.

The Ionic was met with mixed reviews and sales were reportedly not strong enough to turn around the company, which has been hurting of late. This move seems to be less about consoling Pebble supporters than it is an attempt to drum up business for the new smartwatch. In fact, the company’s also tossing in a $50 discount on the Ionic for Pebble owners with a valid serial number.

“Fitbit OS will continue to grow and expand,” the company wrote in a blogpost.
We’re eager for the Pebble community to join the adventure. There’s so much within the Fitbit platform for Pebble fans to love.”

You can see a list of the ways in which the Ionic OS is kind of like Pebble over on Fitbit’s site.

Sweatcoin lets you earn crypto for working out

Want a way to workout and earn some coin? Sweatcoin has risen to the top of the App Store for helping folks get something more than just a glow for taking those daily steps.

The startup says it has accumulated more than five million users in the past year and increased revenue by 266 percent in the last quarter. There are more than two million weekly active users on the app — and growing, making it one of the fastest growing fitness apps in the App Store and second to the top in the free apps, next only to the Google Arts & Culture app that blew up over the weekend.

It works like this: users sign up and then hook up their smartphone’s health and fitness data and GPS location to the app. The app then tracks how many steps you take in a day and rewards you a monetary “sweat” value according to your movements. For every 1,000 steps recorded, the app will pay out .95 in “sweatcoins.” Users can later trade these coins in for fitness gear, workout classes, gift cards and a number of other offerings.

The app says you can only earn these coins by walking outside so it theoretically doesn’t count if you are walking on a treadmill at the gym, though the app on my phone seems to count steps inside my apartment as well. That’s at least something.

Note: I’m in my third trimester of pregnancy so I’m not exactly going the distance (just walking up the stairs feels like I’m trying to climb Mount Everest some days). That makes it a bit hard to earn my coins — I’ve only earned .33 in sweatcoins today, for instance, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t hitting that 10,000 step stride.

Another reason you may hit a wall of motivation in the app — the free version limits you in how many coins you can earn a day to just five. However, you can earn more if you are willing to fork over some of those sweatcoins per month to get you in the upper tiers and make some real sweaty moola towards that coveted Fitbit or whatever fitness gear you’ve got your eye on.

The startup has now raised it’s own coin to the tune of $5.7 million in seed from investors such as Goodwater Capital, which led the round. Greylock also participated through its Discovery Fund, as did Rubylight, Seedcamp, SmartHub and a number of angels including Justin Kan and Rain Lohmus.

Sweatcoin founders say they plan to use the funding to now push beyond the U.S. and U.K. markets to other English-speaking countries, then on to continental Europe and Asia next.

Co-founder Anton Derlyatka also told TechCrunch he’d like to “even include the ability to pay taxes with sweatcoin” in the future. Other co-founder Oleg Fomenko also mentioned plans to develop an “open-source blockchain DLT technology that will allow Sweatcoin to be traded like any other major crypto- or fiat currency.”

“We are out to fundamentally change the value ascribed to health and fitness and provide the motivation for people to lead better lives,” Fomenko said.

Those interested in checking out the app can download it on either iOS or on Google Play and start earning their sweat equity today.

Where GoPro goes next

GoPro, already a beloved camera brand, just couldn’t take flight. The GoPro vision – a little box you can attach to the wing of a plane or your ski helmet and catch unparalleled views of the world – is cloudy now on news that trading halted this morning due to low performance attributed to price slashing, layoffs, and the closing of the company’s nascent drone division.

“As we noted in our November earnings call, at the start of the holiday quarter we saw soft demand for our HERO5 Black camera,” said GoPro founder and CEO Nicholas Woodman in a release. “Despite significant marketing support, we found consumers were reluctant to purchase HERO5 Black at the same price it launched at one year earlier. Our December 10 holiday price reduction provided a sharp increase in sell-through.”

The company ended the fourth quarter with $247 million in cash, up $50 million from the pre-holiday Q3 2017 quarter.

What is truly happening here is the heat death of another hardware giant. GoPro is, however, unique. There is no comparable product that offers the same functionality which is one of the reasons it’s held on so long. You can’t strap a cellphone to your chest and get the same footage nor can you do safely do videography tricks like mounting a few GoPros on a chase car to film an action scene. That said, the action camera market is now a commodity and, though none of the pretenders offer anything remotely like GoPro’s quality, the price from Alibaba and Amazon is right.

I’ve called the deaths of multiple hardware products in the past and I’ve always had my gimlet eye on GoPro. They grew big fast, IPOed, and then tried to do business in a changed world. Like Flip before them, they became a fad then a tool then a commodity finally leading to a battle that they were never born to win. When your company is tied up in one popular product – Palm, Fitbit, and Makerbot come to mind – competition heats up quickly. Other hardware makers start gunning for you and, before you know it, the dinosaurs (Apple, HP, Samsung) come along to eat you.

My call? GoPro is bought by DJI or Samsung this year, runs for a brief moment as a standalone product, and then is folded into the company proper. It’s a an respectful end to a wonderful product whose golden days are past.

The Garmin Vivofit 4 is an $80 Fitbit killer

Garmin and Fitbit have been going at it for years. Both companies offer a compelling array of products complete with high-end smartwatches. But it’s the fight for the low-end that’s compelling and Garmin just lobbed a monster of a product across Fitbit’s bow.

Called the Vivofit 4, the $80 activity tracker features a color screen, the ability to detect different activities, a waterproof casing, one-year battery life and interchangeable wrist bands. And if Garmin’s past products are any indication, this product should work as expected.

As the name suggests, this is the forth incarnation of the entry-level Vivofit and I’ve enjoyed the feature set for the price. Like Fitbit’s entry-level products premium features are often missing, but for the price, it doesn’t hurt as much when they end up in a junk drawer because the wearer stops using them.

Compared to Fitbit’s entry-level product, the Vivofit 4 seems better in nearly every way with a smaller design, color screen, longer battery life and lower price. Unless a person is roped into the Fitbit ecosystem, it’s hard to see why a person would opt for the Fitbit Alta over the Garmin Vivofit 4.

Fitbit is having a bad day

Fitbit is, once again, not having a good day after spending the year in mostly middling status as it looks to prove there’s a market for fitness trackers as well as its own smartwatch.

The culprit today is a Wall Street firm slapping a “sell” rating on the company’s stock, which often results in a resounding rejection of its potential going forward and sparks a sharp drop-off in the company’s share value. Fitbit fell around 8.5% this morning after a year that tried to recover from a steep decline at the beginning of the year amid uncertainty around its business.

Here’s a look at what happened:

Fitbit’s now down more than 16% in the last year. Volatile companies are often vulnerable to these kinds of swings as a result of Wall Street firms rating the shares, which can range from recommendations to buy or sell the stock based on its performance or analysis of its potential business.

For Fitbit, that’s bad news, because the company needs to keep its share price up as companies can use shares as part of compensation packages when they try to hire new people. There’s also always a morale component, as the stock price is a very public-facing barometer of the company’s performance (even if people try to argue against its importance), and one that can wave off potential talent that would be interested in joining the company.

The last update we got from Fitbit was a slew of apps coming to its Ionic smartwatch, which included the addition of apps like Yelp and Uber. But as Apple continues to retool the Apple Wath with new features for health tracking, which appears to be working in a way to detect some common conditions according to a study from UCSF, it’ll face increasing competition when people look at it as a health tracker.

Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch is getting 60 new apps including Yelp, Uber and Deezer

A lack of apps wasn’t my biggest issue with the Fitbit Ionic — but it was up there. The inclusion of a third-party app store was one of the ways the company was looking to set the device apart from the rest of its products, and aside from a couple of high profile partners, there really wasn’t much worth mentioning.

Things are looking a bit better as of this morning. The company noted in a blog post that 60 apps and 100 watch faces have been added or are coming soon to the Ionic ecosystem. They’re not all really notable, but there are enough big names on the list to warrant a second look at Fitbit’s first true smartwatch.

Some biggies include: The New York Times, Yelp, Uber, Lyft, Nest and United Airlines. Deezer’s also getting in on the action next year, becoming the second notable music service after Pandora to buy in to the Ionic ecosystem. The streaming service is hoping to pick up some new devotees by bringing offline streaming to the watch. In terms of name recognition, it’s a notable step down from a Spotify, but when it comes to taking music and leaving the phone behind, it’s a start at least.

Some of the new apps arrive at the height of the holiday gift buying season, so perhaps they’ll make the Ionic a more tempting, Android compatible alternative to the Apple Watch. It’s a bummer, of course, that the product didn’t launch with this full an app selection, but if nothing else, it shows that Fitbit’s committed to building the thing up as quickly as possible.

After all, when we spoke with CEO James Park during at the device’s launch, he told us that the company’s purchase of Pebble was essentially a software acquisition. Fitbit knew it would be launching an app ecosystem from scratch, and Pebble’s team had the development tools to make porting an app to its new smartwatch OS a much easier task. Developing for yet another new app store is a pain, but at least Fitbit’s making the job a little simpler. 

Of course, the Ionic still has its share of issues. I’m not really a fan of the hardware design, which, among other things, isn’t nearly flexible enough to fit on smaller wrists, knocking out a big potential user base. But as multiple acquisitions have shown, the company’s all-in here, and perhaps the next generation device will address those issues as the app selection continues to grow and users shift their focus toward smart devices.

Wearable numbers get a bump, as consumers shift focus to smarter devices

The wearable space seems to still be figuring itself out — though in spite of some reports about the death of the category, overall growth remains one of the few constants. According to the latest numbers from IDC, the global bump was pretty modest for Q3 of this year, at about 7.3-percent, year over year.

More interestingly, the numbers point to a larger overall trend of consumers moving from  dumber, low-end devices to smarter ones. The study defines the latter as devices that are capable of running third-party apps — so pretty much smartwatches, at this point.

That trend does seem to lend some credence to Fitbit’s recent decision to go all-in on smartwatches with multiple high profile acquisitions that led to the creation of the Ionic. That device was something of a mixed bag, though its release did go a ways toward bolstering the company’s sales in recent months.

Fitbit’s fortunes appear to be a mixed big as well, in this latest report. The good news is that the company caught back up to Xiaomi, after the Chinese hardware company surpassed it for a bit, thanks to some seriously low cost devices. The two are basically tied for first according to IDC’s chart.

The one time far and away leader in the space experienced a steep drop in shipments, with a 33-percent year over year decrease. Of course, the Ionic is considerably more expensive, which means the company doesn’t have to ship as many units to make the same revenue — even so, it’s going to have to start selling a lot more smartwatches to make up for those declines.

And while this quarter points to a growth in higher end devices, other recent trends have focused on cheaper devicse. That’s certainly driven Xiaomi’s growth, though the company did suffer a slight year over year decline, due perhaps in part tot the fact that the company hasn’t made much of a dent outside of its native China. That hasn’t really hurt Huawei’s growth, however. The company shot up 156-percent year over year, blowing past Garmin to capture fourth place on the chart.

Apple also had a nice bump at 52-percent year over year, thanks to the company’s decision to push back the announcement of the Apple Watch 3. That jump likely also had something to do with this recent shift toward smart device purchases.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin