Fitbit software update is causing users to panic

Fitbit, the US smartwear company due to launch a range of next-generation devices, has come under fire for changing the way it displays data.

Version 3.64.4 of the Fitbit app was released in late July, with updates to the Fitbit charts to make them easier to read, with labeled buttons and monthly and yearly views to more easily track progress. On paper, this looks like a great update, but it turned out to be a huge problem in practice.

Following the change, many users started to panic when the update started suggesting that they were suffering from breathing issues while sleeping, having previously been told that they were sleeping normally. The problem is the result of the oxygen variation graph. The new chart registers high points of variations in the large spikes of yellow, which are quite shocking to watch. A large variation in oxygen is a sign of sleep apnea.

Complaints and poor reviews of the changes littered social media and the Google Play Store, which called the update a “usability downgrade”.

Fitbit is a popular choice over its competitors due to the clear and accessible way it displays data, providing an encouraging user experience. How the data is displayed is just as important as the data itself, as two different graphs showing identical data could lead users to two very different conclusions, as they did with the Fitbit update.

“Even common graphs such as bar charts and pie charts can be ambiguous, or worse, incomprehensible,” says mathematician and author Alberto Cairo.

“It’s worrying because numbers are very compelling, and so are graphs, because we associate them with science and reason. Numbers and graphs appear objective, precise, and therefore appealing and compelling.”

The new update was likely released in preparation for the new Fitbit Versa 4 and Sense 2 due to be released soon, but recent feedback may force Fitbit to rethink its data display strategy.