What’s up with Fitbit?

Fitbit users these days seem to be asking themselves the same question: Is it me, or is the app down for everyone else too? Between frequent server outages and a recent decision to shut down popular social features, frustrated Fitbit customers say they are weighing their options.

Earlier this month, Google-owned Fitbit suffered a massive server outage, making it impossible for users to sync trackers or view their data on the app or Fitbit’s website. If it was a one-time server outage, users would likely have dismissed it as a coincidence. But it stretched out over a second day and then a third. Then, around 1 p.m. ET, over 1,600 users reported another outage, according to Downdetector. Others reported the outage to the @FitbitSupport Twitter account and the r/Fitbit subreddit. Fitbit spokeswoman Andrea Holing told The Verge that the “brief outage” was resolved quickly, but for many Fitbit users it was one outage too many.

“I rely on this app to track not only my steps but also my heart rate. I’m almost 22 weeks pregnant, so I’m trying to monitor everything and everyone closely that I can!” Fitbit user Carly Johnson tells The Vergine. “The outages make everything so inconsistent and unreliable.”

Rubbing salt in the wound, Fitbit announced last week that it was ditching Challenges, a popular community feature that allows users to compete with friends, family, and other users. Google, Fitbit’s parent company, said the feature — along with open groups and the Fitbit Studio Developer Kit — is of “limited use.”

User backlash was intense and swift.

“The current weekly disruption in service is just the icing on the cake of a poorly made cake.”

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“I recently bought three Fitbits for my friends just so they could take part in the challenges to improve their fitness. The announcement came two days after I gave it away,” Fitbit user Hannah Cooper tells The Verge, explaining that she regularly participates in three to four challenges each week with separate groups of friends and family. “The current weekly disruption in service is just the icing on the cake at this point.”

“Challenges and trophies are the main reasons I even enjoy owning a smartwatch, let alone a Fitbit,” Michael Brown told The Verge. Brown, a longtime Fitbit user, said 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 stop me from even wearing the Pixel Watch most of the time.”

Johnson, Cooper and Brown are not outliers either. Immediately following the announcement last week that Challenges would no longer be available, a horde of Fitbit users flocked to social media to express their confusion over the decision — I spent several hours over the weekend reading hundreds of complaints on 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 the reason they have stayed with the platform over the years. To make matters worse, Google and Fitbit said that any previously earned trophies from competitions would also become inaccessible once Challenges were removed from the app on March 27.

Another source of frustration is Fitbit’s customer service. During the recent outages, @FitbitSupport responded to affected users with canned responses advising them to restart their devices or follow basic troubleshooting steps. That often led to testy exchanges, like the one embedded below, in which customers accused Fitbit of passing off systemic server issues as user error.

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“I haven’t even bothered to contact them,” Johnson says of the recent outage. “I know they know the system is down, so I don’t want a one-size-fits-all answer like they give everyone else.”

There’s not a single obvious reason why Fitbit seems to be suddenly faltering, but some are pointing the finger at Google. Ahead of the launch of the Pixel Watch last year, Rick Osterloh, SVP of hardware at Google, 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 has been touted as a marquee feature, Google’s recent decisions regarding Fitbit are startling.

For example, Google has brought the Fitbit Versa 4 and Sense 2 to their knees by removing features like Google Assistant and third-party apps like Spotify and Starbucks. As a result, any longtime Fitbit user would “upgrade” to products with fewer smart features than their predecessors – unless they decide to buy a Pixel Watch instead. And the decision to remove Fitbit’s outdated social features without offering an alternative threatens to destroy 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 key reason why the company has been able to weather numerous PR gaffes, product recalls, and doubts about its business. Research also shows that training with others improves motivation, performance and encourages people to stick with a particular platform — and that goes for workout buddies you connect with virtually.

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While Fitbit previously told The Verge that only a limited number of active users participated in legacy social features, those who did were among Fitbit’s most loyal customers. Like Cooper, these were the people who bought multiple Fitbits for friends and family to stick with their fitness goals.

Between server outages, challenges removed, and nerfed products, the Fitbit community threatens to disintegrate.

“Initially, I was hoping that Google would expand the Fitbit experience. I was all for the takeover, but now I’m starting to regret it,” says Brown. “I will definitely give up my Pixel Watch when nothing can replace challenges and trophies.”

“This will ultimately make me leave Fitbit if this feature isn’t retained because there are certainly better trackers out there,” Cooper says, citing Fitbit’s lack of challenges. She also noted that after all this, she wants to avoid Google products as it appears the company is “trying to steer users away from Fitbit.” Instead, she’s considering buying the Apple Watch.

Johnson agrees. “I’m definitely considering switching to a different watch/tracker.”