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Fitbit's Smartwatch Project Hits More Hurdles Ahead of Debut

  • Company is said to be struggling to get app store ready
  • Fitbit says it’s ‘on track’ and ‘positioned to succeed’

Fitbit Inc., months away from the debut of its smartwatch, has lost several people working on the project and fallen behind on its app store -- putting in peril the company’s most important product in years.

Hard hit by the sinking popularity of its fitness trackers, Fitbit has bet its future on the smartwatch. But such devices are typically wedded to an ecosystem of compatible devices, apps and services that lure then lock people in. While Fitbit’s watch can play music and handle payments, according to people familiar with the product, a discussed partnership with Spotify failed to materialize and technical challenges mean the app store may not be ready when the watch arrives this fall. Many app developers, meanwhile, are unenthusiastic about Fitbit’s watch.

“I’m more focused on the big boys like the Apple Watch and Android Wear,” says Damian Mehers, who developed a version of Evernote for Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch. “I could consider developing for Fitbit if there was a compelling device and a large enough user base. I think it will be challenging to establish credibility.” Like many other developers, Mehers says the challenge is exacerbated by the fact that wearable devices still haven’t caught on widely, meaning they’re less desirable to write apps for than a smartphone.

In an emailed statement, Fitbit said the development of the smartwatch and third-party apps “are on track” and that “any claims that the developer program is struggling is false.” The company said it’s “well positioned to succeed.”

The global wearables market is expected to grow about 20 percent this year to 125.5 million devices shipped, according to researcher IDC. But Fitbit’s watch will be competing with not just Apple Inc. but dozens of cheaper Android products. Fitbit recently lost its position as the...