Looks like Google is getting ready for a serious dive back into wearables. Both Reuters and CNBC are reporting that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has made an offer to acquire Fitbit. Yes, that Fitbit.
According to Reuters, which initially broke the news, negotiations aren’t locked down quite yet – and, it’s unclear how much Alphabet is willing to plunk down on the deal. That said, CNBC is reporting Fitbit stock has jumped up 27 per cent since news broke, bringing shares up 10 per cent for 2019 and boosting its market cap by more than $280 million (£218 million) to $1.4 billion (£1.1 billion) total.
Gizmodo reached out to Alphabet and Fitbit, but both companies declined to comment.
The news isn’t super surprising if you’ve been paying attention to the fitness tracker and smartwatch space in recent years. While Fitbit reigned supreme when it came to fitness trackers – so much so that the word “Fitbit” is colloquial shorthand for the entire product category – it’s stumbled a bit when it comes to smartwatches. It paid the big bucks for Pebble back in 2017, but the Ionic, its first smartwatch, was somewhat lacklustre. And while Fitbit found greater success with its second smartwatch, the Versa, Reuters reported last month that Fitbit was mulling a sale following a cut to its 2019 revenue forecast, due partially to disappointing Versa Lite Edition sales.
Meanwhile, Google has been quietly beefing up its smartwatch cred. Earlier this year, it bought $40 million (£31 million) worth of Fossil’s tech, as well as a portion of its research and development team. Before this month’s Made by Google event, there were plenty of rumours swirling around that Google would finally make good on the long-awaited Pixel Watch. That ultimately didn’t happen, but Google did make a lot of noise about “ambient computing” – the idea that you should be able to access Google services wherever you are – at the event itself. A smartwatch slots neatly into those ambitions.
At this point, however, Google trails far behind competitors like Apple and Samsung when it comes to smartwatch software. Despite many improvements last year and Qualcomm finally updating to the Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip, Wear OS is still not great. It’s not as if Fitbit OS is that robust either, but Fitbit has something that Daddy Google definitely wants: Lots and lots of fitness data.
Sure Apple has a lot of data thanks to its Apple Watch – and it’ll definitely get more via its upcoming health studies – but Fitbit’s been in the game much longer. Also, as of the end of 2018, the company had 27.6 million active users. On top of a loyal user base, that’s also a lot of data spanning demographics, health metrics like heart rate and sleep data, as well as more sensitive information like when you had your last period or your last sexual encounter. Added to the fact that Fitbit recently added voice assistant capabilities via Alexa on the Versa 2, it’s not hard to imagine swapping that for Google Assistant. Though there have been reports a Pixel Watch may end up being a hybrid-analogue, it’d possibly be easier for Google to build off Fitbit’s – and Pebble’s – tech, than to build a Pixel Watch from the ground up on a platform that no one truly seems to love. (Sorry Wear OS, them's the breaks.)
We’ll have to wait and see how this all shakes out, but if Alphabet really does end up buying Fitbit, the Pixel Watch might end up looking a little more familiar than initially thought.
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