For the second time in the short history of wearable computing, a fit-tech company has issued a sweeping recall of one of its activity-tracking wristbands.A In late 2011, Jawbone issued full refunds for its first-generation UP wristbands, and now Fitbit is doing the same, recalling its Force activity tracker after determining the gadget causes skin irritations for a small number of consumers--a problem that first came to light in January.
Fitbit couldn't have asked for worse timing, as it's hosting a "Fitbit Challenge" at Mobile World Congress, which starts this coming Monday. The Force is Fitbit's newest and most advanced activity tracker, making the recall a stunning blow for what many reviewers have regarded as one of the best fit-tech devices around.
In a blog post, Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park explained that some Force users are suffering what appears to be allergic contact dermatitis--otherwise known as skin inflammation--due to a possible reaction with the element nickel, which is used in the Force's stainless steel chassis. Other users, meanwhile, may be reacting to materials used in the strap, or perhaps even to adhesives used in the Force's assembly.
Fitbit reports that 1.7 percent of Force users have reported skin irritation issues, and is taking dramatic action to address the problem: Just as Jawbone did in 2011, all Force owners can request a full refund for the wristband. And just like Jawbone did with the UP, Fitbit has stopped selling the Force entirely.
Jawbone's original UP suffered a completely different problem: An excessive number of units simply stopped working, turning the wristband into a twisty, pliable version of a brick. The issue was eventually linked back to bad capacitors, and Jawbone successfully reintroduced the UP to the market in 2012.
It's also important to note that when Jawbone issued its recall, it didn't require that UP units be returned. Instead, the company issued a full refund to any customer who requested one, but let UP owners keep their bands, whether they were working, bricked or sitting abandoned in a dresser drawer. Fitbit, however, wants its hardware back, and will issue complete retail-price refunds after the band is "confirmed affected."
You can count me among the 1.7 percent of Force users who suffered some type of irritation from wearing the band. However, I don't think my problems had anything to do with an allergic reaction to nickel, rubber or adhesives. No, I blame the wristband's wonky fastening system, which practically demands that you mash the rubber band into your skin, just to get the band's two pieces to strap together. In short: I suffered physical abrasions, not an allergic reaction. That's my theory at least.