Would Google regret it if it decided to leave its Fitbit iOS fans behind?

Bunch O Fitbits
Bunch O Fitbits (Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Last week I came across an intriguing article by Michael Simon over at MacWorld which speculated that Fitbit could be alienating or even abandoning its base of iOS customers with the release of the next premium smartwatch.

It might seem strange that I, as an Android user, would care all that much much about this possibility. However, as someone who has many friends and family that use Fitbits with their iPhones, the idea that they might not be able to do so in the future did pique my interest. Just within my own circle, I can easily envision lots of unhappy Fitbit fans if Google were to decide to ignore iOS for its smartwatches and trackers in the future.

To be clear, the idea that Google and Fitbit would abandon their iOS users is speculation at this point.

Now I want to be clear that, as of yet, there is no evidence that Google/Fitbit plans to abandon their iOS user base. It's pure conjecture at this point, though it is based on a few facts that we already have regarding Wear OS 3. Fact number 1 is that Fitbit CEO James Park confirmed back at Google I/O 2021 that the next premium Fitbit smartwatch would run Wear OS. Fact number 2 is that the only smartwatches currently running Wear OS 3 — the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic — are not compatible with iPhones.

From these facts, it's easy to speculate that future Wear OS devices also won't work on iOS. And from there, it's a logical jump to assume that Fitbit trackers may not be compatible with iPhones moving forward either. If either or both of these assumptions turn out to be true, what does that mean for the future success of Google/Fitbit's wearables?

Focusing Fitbit on Android

Fitbit Sense

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Many seem to think that not only will Google abandon iOS as a Fitbit platform, but that it should do so for the good of the Wear OS and Android ecosystems. After all, the Apple Watch is not compatible with anything but an iPhone, so why should Google/Fitbit through good money after bad in a fight that they probably can't win on iOS?

These advocates argue that Google should take advantage of the momentum that it's building with Wear OS 3, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, and its new in-house silicon chops and make plans to sever ties with iOS users moving forward. Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures, is one of the experts espousing this viewpoint, calling the decision for Google/Fitbit to focus on its own Android user base a "smart trade-off."

It's the right call for Google/Fitbit to leave iOS customers. The reality is that the effort to maintain those customers is high, and the likelihood of winning a material number of new customers in the next five years is low.

Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC, concurs.

"Apple has done an extremely good job at making sure the Apple Watch is essentially the only choice for iPhone users, so I doubt their users would even notice that Wear OS 3 watches aren't compatible."

Also working in Google and Fitbit's favor is the fact that the Android smartwatch space hasn't caught fire to date.

"Sadly, Android still lacks a hero smartwatch that can be recommended as the default or the 'go-to' product for anyone seeking a smartwatch. As such, many users are either unhappy with their existing smartwatches or simply don't own one, and this could easily be a gold mine for Google/Fitbit," Ubrani says.

Ignoring iOS at its own peril

Fitbit Iphone Hero

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Of course, this argument also assumes that Google will keep making Fitbit watches and trackers in the future, rather than incorporating Fitbit's software suite fully into Wear OS. And yet, our own internal polling shows that over half those who responded want Google to keep Fitbit as an "independent" hardware brand.

Turning your back on a loyal customer base seems like an unwise decision.

Now, it seems that to do so, Google would need to maintain at least some compatibility between Fitbit devices and iOS. Particularly with the growth of Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi in the tracker space.

Much of Fitbit's current user base is made up of iPhone users, and at least a third of active Fitbit devices are trackers like the Charge line. So if Fitbit continues to make fitness trackers in addition to smartwatches for Wear OS, I agree with Simon that it would be a huge missed opportunity for it not to continue supporting iOS users.

Doing so is "going to hurt Fitbit way more than Apple," says Simon. Even Ubrani, who was somewhat bullish on the idea of Google abandoning iOS, agreed that "usually it's not a good idea to abandon a customer base," and Fitbit's iOS base is not insignificant.

Unless future iterations of Fitbit trackers run Wear OS, I don't see the trackers excluding iOS users. The existing software and services already run on iOS, so it doesn't require much effort on Google to keep things going. Moreover, these trackers attract an audience that Apple doesn't cater to, so Google could lose face by excluding them. — Jitesh Ubrani

Many iPhone users love their basic Fitbit trackers for all sorts of reasons. As Simon mentioned in his MacWorld piece, "whether it's the size, shape, price, or battery life, Fitbit's family of devices have surprising appeal among Apple fans." That's not to mention all of the iPhone families that give their kids Fitbit trackers to encourage activity and movement, participate in friendly family challenges, and because they just trust Fitbit more than other companies.

Additionally, many iPhone users simply don't want to or can't afford the upgrade to an Apple Watch. Anecdotally, friends and family I've spoken with who pair Fitbit trackers with iPhones do so because they prefer simplicity and don't want a complicated device on their wrist.

Why should Google/Fitbit give up this healthy and loyal market segment?

Moving forward bit by Fitbit

Fitbit Luxe Watch Face

Source: Courtney Lynch / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Courtney Lynch / Android Central)

Given Fitbit's most recent product releases and how the company gushed over the success of the Charge line, and how excited they were by the Luxe, I am optimistic that most of its devices will work with iOS for the foreseeable future. As a Fitbit tracker fan, I hope I'm right.

But what do you think? Do you think it would be wise for Google and Fitbit to shut out iOS users in the future? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments section.

Have a fantastic Labor Day weekend!

Jeramy Johnson

Jeramy is the Editor-in-Chief of Android Central. He is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.

  • No. Google should not do this because the mobile world is not symmetric. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Google has built a nice reputation that their stuff works everywhere, Apple has built its reputation that their stuff works with Apple. So, Google would be hurting its reputation, and its business, by pulling the Fitbit rug out from underneath iOS users. They would lose users, period. They would not gain anything by doing this. Apple, on the other hand, can do this all the time because, well, they've never supported Android / WearOS users to begin with. Life isn't fair and Google set themselves up for life not being fair.
  • I fully agree! Keep Fitbit open :)
  • Fitbits value lies in its community and ubiquity. Anything that reduces either of those is a death knell for the brand
  • These companies think that, like in this case, if they cut off Apple users, suddenly millions of iPhone users will switch to Android. No. More likely, they will switch to something that supports iPhone. I'm not sure why these companies (Google, Apple, Samsung etc) think that people will abandon what they use to use some side product.
  • They do live by the code of antitrust. So, it's understandable they consider this. It's how a big ecosystem business operates. It's just a question to find the point where the smothering of a competitor will benefit you or them.
    Is it legal? Of course not. But have you ever seen a Big Corp in the US being called out for this type of behaviour by a legislator?
  • Google bought fitbit which was already platform agnostic. This isn't Google setting themselves up.... they bought this company. As for this article, it's a completely hypothetical that has no basis in even the slightest inking of a rumor that this is going to happen.
  • I thin k they should start doing it or better yet focus on Android and chrome with better features and start rewarding users of their own ecosystem first and foremost over a competitiors.
  • Google likes users regardless of what system they use. They want the data so cutting out iOS users is lost data and we all know iOS/Apple users have more disposable income and spend more so they are really attractive to advertisers. So Google would be hurting itself financially if they did.
  • I mean that is one way to ensure they buy an apple watch/another device instead of a Fitbit in the future. 
  • If they stop working with iOS, they will be shooting themselves in the foot. I buy new trackers at least once every 2 years, and have a Charge 3 and a Sense. My wife has an Inspire 2 and a Versa 2. Between the 2 of us we have had 6 others in the past. She also pays for Fitbit Premium right now. Her Iphone is far more important to her than Fitbit. They would be losing out on the $80/yr for the Premium along with whatever profit they get for the hardware just with her. For me, they would be losing out on hardware. I'm not getting the kids Apple Watches, so they get Fitbit now. If they do not work for us, then Xiaomi will probably get our money, unless Apple starts making cheap bands for kids.
  • I'd think that would be a huge mistake for now. Fitbit has iOS users long before Google came along and bought it. While yes, most Apple users are like sheep. They'll buy the watch and the ugly earpod just because it is in their ecosystem. I do have friends that are iOS and use Fitbit because they just want a simple activity tracker but who's to say when Apple decides to release something similar they aren't just go running out to buy that instead. I would say that probability is pretty high. Either way, they will eventually lose the Apple sheeps.
  • Keep 'em. iSheep throws their money at everything.
    And seriously, anything is better than an iwatch :-D Even Samsung's older Tizen watches are way better.
  • And yet the Apple Watch (I'm a grown up so I will call it by its name and not something made up) is the one everyone wants to clone. Obviously you have never really used an Apple Watch or you would not have made such an uninformed comment.
  • So, if it's only speculation at this point, why even publish this article? Typical fan-the-flames non-journalism.
  • It’s an editorial, which is opinion and speculation. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t understand that then you’re the one who doesn’t understand journalism.
  • Guess I don't understand journalism. I prefer news and facts rather than unsubstantiated speculation.
  • Consider moving to a Withings smart watch. Highly-respected MFR in the wearables space with lots of options. #(non)CrisisAverted...
  • Why work with apple if apple watch does not work with android phones
  • I think they would be very silly to do it. My Mrs has a fitbit and she has no idea Google own it. A products which has always been ok to use with apple suddenly doesn't makes no sense. Also bad business sense as you will loose a lot of sales too.