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Fitbit CEO disses Apple Watch

Apple's smartwatch takes the wrong approach to wearable devices, says Fitbit's James Park.

Fitbit, the leading maker of wearables, says it purposely keeps its focus narrow.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Fitbit wearables lack the features found in smartwatches such as the Apple Watch. But that's not a bad thing, according to Fitbit CEO James Park.

The Fitbit activity and fitness trackers are single-mode devices. The Apple Watch performs a multitude of tasks -- time keeping, health tracking, iPhone assisting and computing -- and therein lies the problem, Park said.

"We look at it from a consumer point of view," Park told the New York Times in a story published Monday. "Apple Watch is a computing platform, but that's really the wrong way to approach this category from the very beginning."

The Apple Watch has become the key player in the growing market for smartwatches, generating greater interest for a category that's attracted tech companies such as Samsung, Motorola and LG as well as traditional watchmakers such as Tag Heuer. However, many consumers don't yet see smartwatches as must-have items.

In developing its wearable devices, Fitbit took a different approach than did Apple, according to Park. The company began with a simple product in order to make it consumer-friendly and then slowly added features. The Apple Watch began life packed with an array of features and capabilities, which Park would argue makes the device more complicated.

"I think one of the general knocks against smartwatches is that people still don't know what they're good for, so they've crammed everything in," Park told the Times.

Apple could not immediately be reached for comment.

For the fourth quarter of 2015, Fitbit shipped 8.1 million devices, according to research firm IDC. Apple Watch shipments were estimated at 4.1 million units over the same period. Overall, global smartwatch shipments grew to 4.2 million last quarter from 1.3 million a year earlier, according to Strategy Analytics.

The trick for Fitbit is to keep its products simple while adding functions. As one example, Apple's iPhone 4S included the ability to sync with wireless accessories via Bluetooth. Park wanted to take advantage of that capability, so Fitbit added Bluetooth connectivity to its devices.

Down the road, Park envisions Fitbit devices handling mobile payments or controlling smart-home devices. But to avoid mimicking the Apple Watch, Park said that "we're going to be very careful with how we include these things over time."