Apple Drops FitBit After Healthkit Diss

Apple's recent behavior toward popular wearable maker Fitbit smacks of immaturity and a kindergarten attitude toward companies that choose not to play ball. Developers might want to pay attention to how Apple treats its competitors moving forward.

The story began when Apple released iOS 8. One of the core features of iOS 8 is HealthKit, Apple's take on managing health and fitness data on iPhones and iPads. HealthKit has several components. The first is an on-device app that collects data generated by other health and fitness apps. The second is an SDK with APIs that developers can use to hook into the on-device app.

Naturally, Apple wants as many app providers as possible to support HealthKit. The more data HealthKit can collect for iPhone owners, the better off iPhone owners will be. If only it were that easy.

Fitbit appeared to be leery of HealthKit from the start. When asked directly, the wearable provider said it was "evaluating" HealthKit but had not made any decisions about supporting it. Fitbit has its own app for collecting data from its line of wearables. The Fitbit app, which is available to Android, iOS and Windows Phones, is a decent dashboard for controlling Fitbit's wearables and interacting with the data generated during their use. (Disclaimer: I use a Fitbit Flex and sync it with my smartphones every day.) Fitbit has its own APIs, which allow other apps to import and interact with Fitbit's data. It has over a dozen app partners.

After Fitbit failed to commit to HealthKit, Apple had a hissy fit and threatened to remove Fitbit devices from its online and retail stores. This week, it followed through on that threat. The buying public can no longer enter an Apple Store and by a Fitbit tracker. Of course, you can still buy Fitbit's wearables all over the place, from retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy. Apple's move is childish at best. Surely other wearable makers have yet to sign on to HealthKit, so why would Apple react this way?

Apple's own entry into the wearable market is due to arrive in early 2015. The Apple Watch is a smartwatch that goes well beyond what Fitbit offers. It may cost four times as much, but the Apple Watch has far more features, such as a colorful screen, notification support and, of course, fitness tracking. Still, a wearable is a wearable and people only have so much room on their wrists for technology. Fitbit claims to have 69% of the market for wearables. Despite the dramatic differences between Fitbit's devices and the Apple Watch, they are competing for the same dollars from consumers.

The question for developers then becomes of one prioritizing resources. Apple may be too petty and controlling, but it still offers the best opportunity to make a buck. Fitbit may be the biggest supplier of wearables, but the opportunity for developers simply isn't as large. Other than porting data between apps, there's not much developers can do with Fitbit. The Apple Watch, on the other hand, will be a tempting target for consumers and developers alike. It has far more potential. 

Apple may be behaving like a wanker, but that's par for the course and Apple's competitors should expect nothing less. 

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

Comments

Comments(1)

David Hroncheck

You understand how HealthKit basically works, but I’m not sure you understand who it serves. It’s about two things: Standardized categories of health data; App permissions giving a user customized and controlled sharing options. HealthKit data doesn’t leave an iPhone unless the user decides it should and that data remains under the ownership of the user.

Why wouldn’t FitBit play along with HealthKit? Because FitBit want full control over data their sensors and apps collect, or rather, they want full control of your data until they get paid for it. When FitBit partners up with, say, MyFitnessPal, they arrange to swap all user data between their services once they convince a user to authorize integration. Depending on what and how many services you’ve authorized together, that can become a complicated mess. Case in point, pair up FitBit, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper and see what happens. That’s what happens when you value partnership agreements over customers.

HealthKit streamlines, standardizes and secures, preserving a user’s ownership of aggregated data and how they are shared. It’s one of Apple’s most democratic features since iOS began. If FitBit won't permit iPhone users control over the collection and sharing of their own health data, then don't scold Apple for not showcasing their products.