What we want to see from Fitbit's smartwatch apps

Apps could make or break Fitbit's first 'proper' smartwatch – here's our advice
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The first thing we really knew about Fitbit's smartwatch was that it would have an app store. Fitbit already supports many third-party apps, but it doesn't have an app ecosystem in the same way the Apple Watch or Android Wear do. That looks set to change.

As the release nears – the smartwatch is due in the autumn, according to reports – we thought we'd pitch our ideas for what that app store, and the first apps themselves, should be doing.

Read this: Which Fitbit should you buy?

Will Fitbit try and compete with the giants already in the space? How could it take a different tack when it comes to apps? And what apps can it not afford to miss out?

Read on for our grand – sometimes contradictory – ideas and add your own in the comments.

Paul Lamkin – Co-founder

Fitbit should forget about being an Android Wear or an Apple Watch rival. Sure, the company can argue that, if you look at sales of wearable devices, it is ahead of both of those – but that's because of its affordable fitness tracker range. People see Fitbit as a fitness company and it should use that to its strength.

It should forget about creating a hugely diversified app store and ignore the usual suspects like Uber, Philips Hue and Citymapper. Instead it should create the ultimate sports and fitness smartwatch. That doesn't just mean slick versions of its own sports tracking platforms but also brilliantly ported versions of Endomondo, Strava, RunKeeper and the like.

It also means catering to the needs of someone who wears a smartwatch with a fitness focus. So I also want a tetherless digital payment app on there, streaming music services and apps that focus on recovery as well as performance.

For me, less is more – a more focused Fitbit smartwatch is what I want.

What we want to see from Fitbit's smartwatch apps

James Stables – Co-founder

Fitbit's smartwatch is going to need an app store. The fallout of not including one would be instant suicide. People love app stores and measure the worthiness of devices by them. After all, the secret to the iPhone's success was its app store – so it goes that every device needs to have one, right?

Fitbit has a problem on its hands

But steady on there. Because, guess what? All smartwatch app stores have been pointless. The best is the Apple Watch (naturally) but even Google Maps has been pulled from there because no-one cares. What's more, Samsung's Tizen app store being barer than Tottenham Hotspur's trophy cabinet hasn't stopped a massive and passionate update of the platform.

So Fitbit has a problem on its hands. Firstly, it will be judged by its app store. Secondly, no-one has got a smartwatch app store right, and the company doesn't really have much of a heritage in the area to draw on, so it's likely to be a complete disaster.

So what can the company do? Well, firstly think about users and what they want. They'll want integration with their favourite apps, so better cover those off. Forget Facebook, Twitter and a token CNN app. Strava, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal are going to be essential. But also, filling in the gaps of what people want from their Fitbit. Decent apps for HIIT and workouts would be great – but from expert brands. It's a balance between getting the right functionality and appeasing the naysayers. It's not going to be easy.

Michael Sawh – Editor

I've written in the past about how I don't necessarily believe apps are the be all and end all for smartwatches, and I think that largely still applies. In the case of Fitbit's first smartwatch though, it feels different. It may be more important for this watch than any other out there to not only bring strong third-party apps to the table, but also to have apps that take full advantage of whatever killer features Fitbit has in store for us.

It's a no-brainer that Fitbit's smartwatch will be heavily fitness-focused, and no doubt it will be a priority to deliver strong support for the most popular health and fitness apps. But I also want to see Fitbit think about the apps that its users will want when they're not tracking a run or HIIT workout at the gym. If there's going to be payment support, make sure there are apps that really make great use of it, and the same for apps that can give you snippets of useful travel or weather information in a way that makes you forget about your phone.

What I really hope to see is strong music streaming app support. Rumours suggest Fitbit lost its opportunity to buddy up with Spotify early in the development process of the watch and that's a real shame if true. I don't think any smartwatch has really nailed a great music app that I can say, okay, I'll ditch my phone for this. This is an opportunity for Fitbit to make it happen.

Speaking of opportunities, I want to talk about the app store itself. Fitbit has already confirmed it's building one and if it's going to make it available from the watch, it should really think about making it well optimised for smaller screens as well as for smartphones. Google brought the Play Store to its Android Wear watches and while I'm glad it did, I still prefer browsing from my phone. Make it easier to discover apps and find the best ones. Pebble did a good job of this and that's no doubt one of the reasons Fitbit was so keen to get the makers of the Steel, Round and Time on board for its watch debut.

What we want to see from Fitbit's smartwatch apps

Sophie Charara – Features editor

Everyone else here seems in agreement that Fitbit needs to get its third-party fitness apps right. And I agree with widening it out to, yes, MyFitnessPal – but also to include things like period tracking and fertility apps, if Fitbit really is going after women. James Park mentioned "pill reminder applications", which is promising.

But that can't be it, otherwise why isn't this just a Surge 2 with Strava? When we first started digging into what this upcoming Fitbit smartwatch would be like, we spoke to a bunch of ex-Pebblers after the acquisition, and I think there's a lot that Fitbit can still learn from Pebble.

Treat the devs well – hold awesome jams and dev days

On the apps side, that means a few things: go nuts on watch faces for one, not just the big Mickey Mouse ones on Apple Watch but indie options to make people feel like their watch is their own. Fitbit has done well on strap customisation and fashion tie-ins. Let's see some Tory Burch, Vera Wang and Public School watch faces and themes.

Treat the devs well – hold awesome jams and dev days, get the devices out early and widely and build up real relationships and a real community.

And think about simple, useful apps with quick intuitive interactions. Fitbit owns Coin so I expect to see smartwatch payments for one. We take this feature for granted on expensive, flagship wearables but when you get to slimmer, more affordable options payments can be overlooked (true, the watch is apparently going to cost $300 but let's wait and see.) It's a shame if rumours are true that it can't get Spotify on board, but it's not too late to resolve this.

Hugh Langley – US editor

I'm taking a contrary stance to most of my colleagues here: I don't want to see a streamlined app offering. I want Fitbit to go full Pebble.

Pebble was bolstered by a thriving developer community and Fitbit knew this when it when it was handing over the cash to buy the company. There was no guarantee the developers would migrate, and chances are if Fitbit doesn't create a Pebble-like app store they won't. But Pebble's app developer community always felt more active than others and it resulted in some great apps – some useful, some fun, some downright nerdy. But it was that variety and opportunity for people to tinker with ideas that I loved.

Fitbit should of course have solid third-party (standalone) apps from the big names, that's a no-brainer, but I want to see the more zany ideas too. I want an app store that encourages a spectrum of innovation like Pebble's did.

Conor Allison – Reporter

Fitbit's first real quote-unquote smartwatch is also its first direct shot across the bow at the big boys, but, as with any standalone ecosystem, its success will be on reliant on what it brings through software. You only need to look at Samsung's Tizen, which still isn't fully fleshed out, to understand a situation to avoid, but knowing which areas to focus on is just as important.

We've seen big pushes into fitness from all the major platforms – something Fitbit is naturally associated with and trusted on, thanks to its work in the fitness tracker scene. First and foremost, it needs to leave no doubt in this area. And that means giving users the ability to sync up to whichever fitness app they want from the start, and not leaving users without dedicated standalone options for months on end.

Fitbit doesn't necessarily need to reinvent the smartwatch on its first go-around, it simply needs to make it hard to ignore as a fitness companion and let the more general apps flow naturally to keep it in the conversation with Apple, Android Wear and Tizen. People won't shy away from the smartwatch if it doesn't have sister apps and stellar notification support, but they might if fitness options are half-baked.

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