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Apple Watch doesn't excite people, says Fitbit exec

Commentary: At an investment conference, Fitbit CFO Bill Zerella appears to suggest that the world's best-selling wearable is a niche product.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Not exciting? 

Cesar Salza/CNET

As I wander around the restaurants and supermarkets of the world, I've noticed that many people who work at these places have an Apple Watch.

When I ask why, I get simple, practical answers. For example, a server in Fort Myers, Florida, told me she has the wearable so she can communicate with her mom while at work and also track calories burned.

Fitbit Chief Financial Officer Bill Zerella sees hope in such responses, I suspect. At heart, he thinks the Apple Watch really isn't all that.

As Barrons reports, the CFO of the company that makes the Fitbit Ionic, Versa, Blaze and other fitness trackers spoke Wednesday at the Roth Investment Conference in Laguna Beach, California.

"I have yet to meet anyone who owns an Apple Watch who's passionate about the product," Zerella said. 

It's unclear whom Zerella meets. 

However, the numbers suggest the iPhone maker shipped record numbers of its Apple Watch device in the last quarter of 2017. More importantly, my CNET colleagues who review these things describe the device as "the best overall smartwatch you can buy."

Still, Zerella referred to the iPhone and insisted the Apple Watch is stuck in a niche. "If you don't have an Apple phone, you're not buying an Apple Watch ... [and] 80 percent of the world is Android, not Apple," he said.

This is true, but Apple has never been about having the biggest market share. It's about getting the most high-value customers to buy products with healthy margins. The iPhone purveyor seems to be doing very well in integrating the watch with its other devices, so that they all work together.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

For its part, Fitbit has struggled. 

Its last earnings report didn't excite. Its last smartwatch, the Ionic, didn't move either, as sales of the premium-priced device weren't stellar. There are now promises of a lower-priced watch soon.

Of course, you wouldn't expect a rival whose stock price has dipped 75 percent since its 2015 IPO to laud Apple Watch to the moon.

Moreover, I'm not sure how passionate people are about smartphones, wearable devices, fitness trackers and other gadgets at all these days. As markets mature, people begin to treat phones and even smartwatches as utilitarian essentials. Yes, they want them to be pretty. They also want them to be easy.

When it comes to phones, for example, sales were down for the first time ever last quarter

More people say they're perfectly happy with refurbished phones, as they don't necessarily feel excited about anything that's new -- and very expensive, in the case of, say, the iPhone X. They want things to work well.

Once you're sucked into the Apple ecosystem, switching away seems, for many people, like too much trouble. 

Passion and excitement only take you so far. Ask anyone who's happily married.

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