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Birth of the Fitbit

2009 January 26
by James

Sorry, it’s been a while since our last post. We’ve been tweaking the design to fix some of the issues I mentioned in the last post. I had been hoping to make one single post when all the issues had been resolved, but it’s been taking a while and so instead of keeping you in the dark further, here is the incremental update.

1. We’ve made some changes to improve the assembly time and process. Things can always be better on this front, but I think we’re closed to locked down on this aspect.

2. The button design was changed to make it easier to press. The pressing action is a lot less stiff, due to a softer rubber that we switched to and the shape of the button was altered to make it easier to press.

3. Charging. Ah, this has been the bane of our existence for the past few weeks. I think we’ve made some good progress, though. The stiffness of the contacts has been increased and this has helped in making sure that the contacts would no longer get deformed during the assembly contacts.

However, we still have not been able to get reliable contact between charging contacts. Here’s a couple photos to illustrate things:

Downward Charging Problem Side to Side Charging Problem

You can click through to see the larger pictures, but essentially, there is a lot of side to side movement and up and down movement once the Fitbit has been placed on the charging base station. This movement causes the contacts to potentially miss contact with each other and therefore no charging occurs.

It’s very possible that this misalignment is due to the imprecise nature of the process used to make the prototypes, since we don’t see this misalignment in the computer design files. Our prototypes are made by taking a block of plastic and using a computer driven drill to carve out the prototype. This drilling or “machining” process is a lot less precise than the final production process, which is injection molding: injecting molten plastic into steel molds.

However, just to be safe, we’ve made some more changes to prevent this issue and we are getting some more prototypes built to test things out, but I think it will be at least another 2 weeks before we know the answer for sure. In the meantime, we’ve ordered a lot of the individual electrical components and we expect those to arrive within 8 weeks.

I also wanted to give you a glimpse into the design process that got the Fitbit to this point. In the beginning, we commissioned a top industrial design firm to come up with design for the Fitbit. This firm has done a lot of groundbreaking products including the Palm Zire.

The first stage of the industrial design process was to come up with some basic shape concepts [click through to see larger image]:

 

Step 1 Shape Concepts

These are a subset of the shapes that we considered. This stage allowed our design firm and our team to come to an agreement about the usability and wearability of the Fitbit.

The second stage was to come up with some more developed pencil sketches of the basic shapes. This would allow us to hone in on the aesthetic direction of the Fitbit. Again, these are just a subset:

 

Step 2 Sketches

 

From these sketches, we selected 3 designs that would be further developed into computer renderings. Here’s the rendering of the winning design:

 

Fitbit Final Step Rendering

 

You can see the Fitbit’s final U shape evolve from the early shape concepts to the final rendering. You might also notice that the winning rendering is similar, but not quite the same as what our actual final product looks like. There are many reasons for this but the underlying thread is that engineering reality often causes the design to change. For instance, it was very difficult to fit all the components into the shape, so the Fitbit had to be thickened…the translucent display effect shown above was technically challenging to execute in a cost-effective and space-efficient manner, etc. In any case, I think both our industrial design and engineering team did a great job in converging on the actual final design that you see on our front page:

Fitbit with flower screen

45 Responses leave one →
  1. housewifeheather permalink
    January 26, 2009

    Thanks for the update Mr. James. Can’t wait for the finished product. Thanks for making sure it is perfect.

  2. Jamps728 permalink
    January 26, 2009

    I won’t lie – I’m excited for this product, but 8 weeks! It was supposed to be out in December – I think it’s a little disappointing that the components aren’t even going to arrive until March – and then we don’t know how long it’s going to take to actually get them here in the US. I’m excited for the Fitbit but the wait and the constant pushing back of the date when they kept promising December and now Q1 is really annoying and a bit disheartening. I know things take time – but these are issues that should have been taken into consideration before announcing a launch date.

  3. Lacy permalink
    January 26, 2009

    I can’t wait for these to come out… I’ve been clecking the blog daily for an update! Thanks for keeping us informed :)

  4. James permalink*
    January 26, 2009

    Jamps728…

    I totally understand your frustration. I’m frustrated as well. It was definitely not our intention to announce so early. When we launched at Techcrunch, we expected the Dec launch date and we had major PR events scheduled for the holiday season that we had to eventually had to pull out of. For instance, we had plans to be at the Consumer Electronics Show and even won our category, but we ended up not appearing.

    In general, a lot of the slippage is due to the fact that we are being ultraconservative with product reliability and the fact that each design tweak takes at least 1-2 weeks to prototype and verify. Being a small company, we do not want to run the risk of putting something out there that has a high return rate.

    Again, I know it’s frustrating. I hope you understand. We’re trying our hardest to ship. and again, no one is charged anything until the Fitbits ship.

    best

  5. Justin permalink
    January 26, 2009

    Thanks for the update. i found this device online and pre ordered it. I have been wanting it bad, but i also want it to be a great product. The point of the post is to say thanks for the update. I can’t wait to use it

  6. Jamps728 permalink
    January 26, 2009

    James, thanks for updating us – sorry for the negative post, I’m just really excited for this and a bit impatient. I do appreciate that you guys are trying to make the product as perfect as possible. Coming from a family of small business owners I know that things don’t always go as expected. Hope all goes well.

  7. January 27, 2009

    nice update, thanks for the update, from a production aspect im glad you are taking care of it from that end instead of having me keep sending the product back. to me that is more frustrating. speaking of which, what is your warranty program for this product

  8. Brett permalink
    January 27, 2009

    Thank you for the update. Like everyone else I have been looking at the website daily, ok hourly, for updates. I have pre-ordered one, but my concern is that with all the attention even though I have pre-ordered my delivery date will be after 1Q. Are your first production runs going to be enough products to fill all the pre-orders that have come in?

  9. Die Happpy permalink
    January 27, 2009

    I’m anxious for the Fitbit but I also want them to get it right. There is nothing more frustrating than a poorly designed piece of equipment that will be more of a headache when using it. I am thankful that you guys are taking the time to get it right.

  10. Brad permalink
    January 27, 2009

    Thanks for the update, I was beginning to get concerned. We’re all enthusiastic to get the finished product. I appreciate that there’s so much quality assurance and testing that has to be done. Good luck with the testing and refining and thanks for not sending it out before it’s done.

  11. Ed Low permalink
    January 27, 2009

    The delay is of course disappointing but understandable. These devices may look simple but there are in my experience many ways that things can go wrong so taking the time out to make sure you have a quality product in the end is of paramount importance, so it is much appreciated. BTW, I too have one on order!

    I hope you don’t mind me giving you an idea I have that may help. The side-to-side movement and up and down movement probably has to do with the fact that the clip is mounted to the charging station under tension (from the spring at the top). The slotted interface at the bottom probably also contribute to this since it is a bit tapered in nature and the whole contraption would likely have a tendency to slide up. You may be able to limit this by designing in an elevated notch on the charging station with a matching hollow on the clip. The top edge of the notch can be sloped to help provide a smooth insertion; with the bottom more squared which will prevent it from sliding out. This way you will get a positive click when you insert the device into the station. To remove, one only has to lift the Fitbit slightly at the bottom to move the notch out of the hollow.

    Of course, one should really have a visual feedback on the display when charging has been engaged.

    HTH

  12. January 27, 2009

    Thanks James. I too have a FitBit on order and am anxiously awaiting it. :)

    Please keep the information coming as it really helps us all with the wait. So since it looks like your new electrical components won’t arrive until late March, should we expect the FitBit in April at the soonest?

    – Preston

  13. Christy permalink
    January 28, 2009

    Thank you for the update and thank you also for making sure this product is the best that it can be.

    I really wanted a Bodybugg, but your product looks so much better. I can’t afford both. I will wait for yours. I think it’s going to be a superior product.

    To me, since both the company’s owners are tech people, it makes it all the better.

    Seeing all the blogs about the process it takes to make a prototype and the work which goes into the product just to make it better is enlightening. Your blogs will help me appreciate the product even more.

    Thank you again and even though I’m anxious, I’d rather have a product that works, even if it takes longer.

  14. January 28, 2009

    I’m excited about the product. Obviously disappointing that the date has to be pushed back but as many others have said much better to push the date back now than have to deal with returns and more frustration later. It really seems like a high quality product and that you care about the end user.

    I inherited a Bodybugg last month and the thing that bothers me the most is that they don’t seem to care about the user, and only care about the money.

    As with everyone here i have pre-ordered but i do have two questions that have already been asked (and i know at this point the answers could only be somewhat speculation):

    1. Will you have enough fitbit’s to fill all of the pre-orders you have at this point? If not how many orders should be filled in the first wave?

    2. You said 8 weeks to get more parts. Which means that more testing would then need to be done, which ultimately means April or later… so does that mean they won’t be shipping in Q1?

    Thank you for trying to keep us updated, the more informed we are… the happier we will be :) keep blogging!

  15. Graham permalink
    January 29, 2009

    I’m excited about the Fitbit. Like Jamp728, I’m disappointed that it’s not out sooner, but I certainly appreciate you and you company’s desire to make a quality product. Keep it up!

  16. Jeff permalink
    January 30, 2009

    All interesting stuff, but there’s no info on the anticipated ship date for early pre-orders. Given that you’ll have the electronics in March, I assume an optimistic ship date is early April? What’s the state of your web app and the PC software that ties everything together?

    I understand that delays happen when you preorder a completely new product, but a delivery estimate (and info on why this is your estimate) would make me much happier.

  17. Evan Adams permalink
    January 30, 2009

    I have that charging problem with the Logitech Harmony 880.. ANOYING.

  18. Brent permalink
    January 31, 2009

    Maybe you want to update your FAQ page. It still says that Fitbit will ship in January.

  19. richard evans permalink
    February 1, 2009

    any idea of when you will start to ship them out? I want mine!!!

  20. k-ris permalink
    February 1, 2009

    Yeah, there’s no way these will be out by Q1, I’d say Q3 would be more realistic at this point if I were to make an educated guess.

    Eh, that’s the problem with announcing something before the real prototyping stage – there are almost always problems getting it to manufacture.

    I just hope interest doesn’t wane too much, but then again, it’ll probably respring once launch time comes. Kudos to you guys for working on the problems BEFORE shipping – products are shipped with physical defects far too often these days.

  21. craig permalink
    February 2, 2009

    This item sounds like a real interesting product…
    If we all stay patient these tech designers might have
    an excellent product on their hands. It is nice to hear
    someone taking the time to get it right instead of just
    worrying about profits…..

  22. February 2, 2009

    More kudos for the transparency. I’m very eager for mine and it’s easier to be patient when you know what’s going on. And easier to forgive you for hiring the wrong design firm. ;-)

    You can use the extra time, of course, to make sure the web component is perfect (user test the site, flesh out an API), build an iPhone app, etc.

  23. February 3, 2009

    Who are going to be your retailers, or are you going to offer through fitness centers? Maybe do bulk sales to large companies to promote your fitbit?

  24. Vic Clark permalink
    February 4, 2009

    Thank you for all your efforts to ensure a higher quality product for your customers. I’ve Pre-ordered and I agree with your other customers, I would rather wait for a more reliable device. Great job!

  25. Greg permalink
    February 4, 2009

    I will echo everyone’s comments…thanks for the update, and keep going till you get it right. There’s nothing worse than rushing the product only to have to return it due to a design/manufacturing flaw. I also am excited, but willing to wait a bit longer. Good Luck

  26. charlie permalink
    February 5, 2009

    How do we update our payment options since my credit card will be closed, by the time the Fitbit is released?

  27. Phyl permalink
    February 8, 2009

    Thanks for the info! Like so many others I have pre-ordered and am excitedly awaiting the shipping date! :) I am really appreciative that you are working so hard to make a quality product that will not give problems after I receive it. And it’s wonderful to be able to go to your flickr site and see the pictures, it gives me a sense of being connected and makes the waiting easier to handle.
    Thanks again!
    Phyl

  28. February 9, 2009

    Hey, it’s good to get the update. I’m still hanging in there patiently. I’d rather you get it right.

  29. Amy permalink
    February 13, 2009

    I’ve been following your progress since reading about the FitBit last fall. Working for a software company, I completely understand the notion of wanting to deliver a product that is as bug-free as possible and I applaud you guys for taking the time to get it right before sending it into production. Good luck with the next wave of tests once your parts show up in March/April. I’ll be looking forward to reading about your progress in the coming months. I’m sure we would all rather have something that’s top notch, works as expected, and doesn’t fall apart in a year – quality is worth waiting for in my opinion.

  30. jean Pospichal permalink
    February 14, 2009

    I read about this in the paper today/2/14 (Omaha World Herald health magazine) I have been all over trying to find a price you will charge for this item. When are you going to bring us up to date? It is being advertised and somewhat deceiving… cart before the horse and no info on horse or price.

  31. gamassey permalink
    February 16, 2009

    Do you think you will be able to ship before Christmas 09? I know that there are several other companies working on very similar devices that will be shipping products in 4th quarter 09. There is a very interesting unit recently announced that monitors all motion day/night (computes steps, K, sleep patterns …) and has wireless communication and no cost social website at a $50 price point.

    Thanks, please keep us informed.

  32. Laura permalink
    February 16, 2009

    Hi, thanks for the updates. Would you please consider allowing those of us who have preordered the Fitbit to log on to the Fitbit website/dashboard to start logging calories, even though the calories burned section wouldn’t be live yet? I would like to start tracking calories, but don’t want to start using another web app, because I know I’ll be switching over to Fitbit’s as soon as it’s available.

  33. February 18, 2009

    Thanks for the update! Like everyone else, I am eager for the shipment of my new fit-bit. Of course a delay is disappointing, but I would be much more disappointed if I got a product that wasn’t reliable! I appreciate your communication and look forward to seeing an email telling me that my fit-bit has shipped. Until then I’ll continue to haunt your site, checking for further updates.

  34. Brad permalink
    February 19, 2009

    Umm, any further updates?

  35. Bill Coffelt permalink
    February 19, 2009

    My wife and I are going on a 17 day transatlantic cruise starting April 29 and thought that would be a great start to using our fitbits. Any chance of meeting that date?

  36. Lynn permalink
    February 23, 2009

    Hey – anyone home? Its been almost a month since the last update. Are you guys still around and working on the fitbit? I agree with the others that a bug free product is key but I think you really should have been a little more realistic up front. My husband pre ordered this as a Christmas present for me thinking that it would here in early January – its the end of Feb and you guys have turned into ghosts. Very disappointing!

  37. anita permalink
    February 23, 2009

    It really would be nice if you folks could provide an update on your blog at least once or twice a month. Just a little word or two on the latest developments.

  38. James permalink
    February 24, 2009

    It has been more than 4 weeks, and still no update? The end of Q1 is a little over a month away, I wanted these for Christmas last year and am wondering if they will even make it for Christmas THIS year.

    Many of us have already pre-ordered your vaporware product the least you could do is update your blog once a week! As another poster said it would also be nice if you opened up your website, I am beginning to get cold feet about that too, because as the iPod showed me a device really becomes useful when coupled with a great interface…and you have neither the device or interface ready…

  39. Eric permalink
    February 25, 2009

    I agree. It would be great if you could update us more often on your progress. We don’t always need to have a fully detailed article written with pictures (even though I do appreciate them). Just a two or three sentance update every couple of weeks would be awesome!

  40. richard evans permalink
    March 8, 2009

    please update the status of your roll out.

  41. March 11, 2009

    Perhaps you should not have entered the TechCrunch 50. I believe in the Apple philosophy — never pre-announce a product unless you can nail the ship date you announce. If you can’t, don’t say anything until the product ships.

  42. Justin permalink
    March 12, 2009

    Keep doing the work you are doing. I know that it is a work in progress. Everyone on here is showing the typical american consumer, no one can wait for anything, they need it not now, but yesterday. It is obvious that you guys are working hard behind this product to make sure of it’s success. I can’t wait for mine, you are doing just fine.

  43. Jamps728 permalink
    March 20, 2009

    Justin, what are you talking about? They said it would be ready in DECEMBER. We’re not being typical American consumers, we’re asking people to live up to their word. There’s nothing wrong with that. Like N said, don’t announce the launch of a product until you can nail down a ship date. They should stop lying about the ship date and give us a realistic estimate. Considering we’re putting down $100 each for their product, an accurate ship date and an update to the blog more then once every 6 months is not unreasonable. Part of selling a product is having good customer service and being a good salesman. Lying to your customers is doing neither of those things.

  44. March 25, 2009

    Jamps728,

    You haven’t put down a dime yet. How easy it must be to sit and tell people manufacturing precision equipment en masse to work faster.

    If you don’t want to deal with the delays and the silence, simply cancel your UNPAID preorder and move on. You’re not some slighted consumer, righteously defending paying customers everywhere – you’re a petulant child who doesn’t want to wait for something.

    Manufacturing is HARD. Electronics doubly so, and such a precision piece of equipment triply. You have no right to get angry – they haven’t taken your money yet.

  45. Hubie permalink
    September 23, 2009

    GREAT News, thanks

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