Fitbit is leaving South Africa

Google is pulling Fitbit out of South Africa, TechCentral reported. Its decision comes less than three years after Google completed its acquisition of the fitness tracker company.

Fitbit wearables have been sold in South Africa since at least 2014.

Core Group, a company better known for bringing Apple products into South Africa, imported and distributed Fitbit.

Aside from having a reputation as a more affordable fitness tracker, Fitbit has a storied history and technological heritage.

It was founded as Healthy Metrics Research, Inc. in March 2007 and changed its name to Fitbit, Inc. that October.

Fitbit acquired fitness coaching app developer Fitstar for $17.8 million on 5 March 2015.

It went public on the New York Stock Exchange on 18 June 2015, raising $732 million (around R9 billion at the time).

In May 2016, Fitbit acquired Coin, keeping its wearable payment platform and binning its smart credit card product.

This would eventually become Fitbit Pay, which reached South Africa in 2018.

FNB was the first bank to support the platform on its Visa credit cards. Five other local banks now support Fitbit Pay on their Visa-based payment cards: Absa, Discovery Bank, Investec, Nedbank, and RMB Private Bank.

Then, on 7 December 2016, Fitbit acquired distressed smartwatch startup Pebble.

Pebble built affordable, sub-$200 smartwatches, seeing phenomenal early success via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

However, the company ran into trouble early in 2016, retrenching 25% of its workforce — 40 staff.

Despite running another incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign in May 2016 for three new watches in a last-ditch effort to raise the money it needed to stay afloat, the company ultimately failed.

Fitbit picked up Pebble’s software and intellectual property for $23 million, which was reportedly not even enough to cover the company’s debts.

Pebble’s assets, including product inventory and server equipment, were sold separately.

After Pebble, Fitbit acquired Romanian smartwatch startup Vector Watch SRL on 10 January 2017.

Later that year, Fitbit would launch its Ionic smartwatch — its first built on Pebble’s software platform.

Fitbit Ionic
Fitbit Ionic

On 1 November 2019, Google announced it would buy Fitbit for $2.1 billion cash — R31.7 billion at the time.

Google only completed the transaction in January 2021 following extreme regulatory scrutiny.

South Africa’s Competition Commission approved the deal on 22 December 2020 with a lengthy set of conditions attached.

South Africa joins a host of countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America where Google stopped selling Fitbit.

In Europe, these are Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Slovakia.

In Asia, Fitbit is no longer being sold in Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Google has also pulled Fitbit out of Mexico and the broader Latin America.

The company has said it is aligning its hardware portfolio to map closer to its Pixel smartphone’s regional availability.

Google has never sold its Pixel smartphones in South Africa nor expressed any firm plans to launch them locally.

This didn’t prevent those who really wanted a Pixel smartphone (or Nexus before that), from importing one. They just wouldn’t receive any local support or warranty on the device.

Google assured that Fitbit and Nest products already sold in South Africa would continue to function and receive software support from the company.

It will also honour any warranties on units people already own.

MyBroadband contacted Google for comment. A spokesperson for the company acknowledged our query but didn’t answer our questions by the time of publication.

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Fitbit is leaving South Africa