These days, Fitbit users seem to be asking each other the same question: is it me, or is the app down for everybody else, too? Between frequent server outages and a recent decision to shutter popular social features, frustrated Fitbit customers say they’re weighing their options.
Earlier this month, Google-owned Fitbit suffered a massive server outage that left users unable to sync trackers or view their data within the app or on Fitbit’s website. If it had been a one-off server outage, it’s likely users would’ve written it off as a fluke. But it extended into a second day and then a third. Then, around 1PM ET yesterday, over 1,600 users reported yet another outage, according to Downdetector. Others reported the outage to the @FitbitSupport Twitter account and in the r/Fitbit subreddit. Fitbit spokesperson Andrea Holing told The Verge that the “short outage” was quickly resolved, but for many Fitbit users, it was one outage too many.
“I rely on this app to track not only my steps but my heart rate. I’m almost 22 weeks pregnant, so I try to closely monitor anything and everything I can!” Fitbit user Carly Johnson tells The Verge. “The outages make everything so inconsistent and unreliable.”
Rubbing salt into the wound, Fitbit announced last week that it was sunsetting Challenges, a popular community feature that allows users to compete with friends, family, and other users. Google, Fitbit’s parent company, said that the feature — along with open groups and Fitbit Studio developer kit — was of “limited use.”
The backlash from users was fierce and swift.
“The current weekly disruption to the service is just the rotten cherry on the top of a badly made cake.”
“I have recently purchased three Fitbits for my friends, solely so they could participate in the challenges to help with their fitness. Two days after I had gifted them, the announcement was made,” Fitbit user Hannah Cooper tells The Verge, explaining that she regularly participates in three to four challenges every week with separate groups of friends and family. “The current weekly disruption to the service is just the rotten cherry on the top of a badly made cake at this point.”
“Challenges and trophies are the core reasons why I even enjoy having a smartwatch, let alone a Fitbit,” Michael Brown tells The Verge. A longtime Fitbit user, Brown says he decided to switch from the Sense 2 to the Pixel Watch as soon as it was announced. “Removing that just doesn’t make sense and will probably be a deterrent for me to even wear the Pixel Watch most of the time.”
Johnson, Cooper and Brown aren’t outliers, either. Right after announcing Challenges would no longer be available last week, a horde of Fitbit users flocked to social media to express bewilderment at the decision — I spent several hours over the weekend combing through hundreds of complaints across Twitter, Reddit, and Mastodon.
Many, like Cooper, said they used the app’s community features to feel connected to loved ones. Others said the social features are why they stuck with the platform over the years. To make things worse, Google and Fitbit said that any previously earned trophies from competitions would also become inaccessible once Challenges are removed from the app on March 27th.
Another source of frustration is Fitbit’s customer service. During the most recent outages, @FitbitSupport replied to affected users with boilerplate responses advising they reboot their devices or follow basic troubleshooting steps. That often led to testy exchanges, such as the one embedded below, where customers accused Fitbit of passing off systemic server issues as user error.
“I haven’t even bothered reaching out to them,” says Johnson regarding the most recent outage. “I know that they know the system is down, so I don’t want a uniform response like they give to everyone else.”
There’s not a single obvious reason why Fitbit seems to be floundering all of a sudden, but some are pointing the finger at Google. Ahead of the Pixel Watch launch last year, Google’s SVP of hardware, Rick Osterloh, told The Verge that the company bought Fitbit because it needed its health and fitness platform to succeed in the wearable space. And while the Pixel Watch’s Fitbit integration was touted as a marquee feature, Google’s recent decisions regarding Fitbit are baffling.
For instance, Google kneecapped the Fitbit Versa 4 and Sense 2 by removing features like Google Assistant and third-party apps like Spotify and Starbucks. As a result, any longtime Fitbit user would be “upgrading” to products with fewer smart features than their predecessors — unless they chose to buy a Pixel Watch instead. And the decision to remove legacy Fitbit social features without offering an alternative threatens to chip away at one of Fitbit’s greatest strengths: its community.
A strong community is a big part of any company’s product strategy, but it’s especially important when it comes to fitness
A strong community is a big part of any company’s product strategy, but it’s especially important when it comes to fitness. For example, Peloton’s dedicated user base is a major reason why the company has been able to weather numerous public relations gaffes, product recalls, and doubts about its business. Research also shows that exercising with others improves motivation and performance and encourages people to stick with a specific platform — and that applies to workout buddies you connect with virtually.
While Fitbit previously told The Verge that only a limited number of active users participated in legacy social features, those that did were among Fitbit’s most loyal customers. Like Cooper, these were the folks who bought multiple Fitbits for friends and family as a way to stick to their fitness goals.
Between server outages, removing challenges, and nerfed products, Fitbit’s community is in danger of disintegrating.
“I initially had hopes that Google would add to the Fitbit experience. I was all for the acquisition but now I’m starting to have my regrets,” says Brown. “I’ll definitely be giving up my Pixel Watch if there’s nothing replacing challenges and trophies.”
“This is eventually going to make me leave Fitbit if this feature is not kept, as there are certainly better trackers in the market,” says Cooper, referring to the lack of Fitbit challenges. She also noted that after all this, she intends to avoid Google products as it seems like the company is “trying to steer users away from Fitbit.” Instead, she’s considering buying the Apple Watch.
Johnson agrees. “I am definitely looking into switching to another watch/tracker.”