It did not take long for Google to confirm the rumours. In a blog post on Friday, Rick Osterloh announced that Google was acquiring Fitbit, one of the best known wearable brands in the world. There’s an argument to be had that it is the best known.
But appearances can be deceiving. Despite its brand recognition, Fitbit sells fewer wearables than Xiaomi, Apple and Huawei and arguably has worse on-device software than all three of those brands. Fitbit may have popularised fitness trackers, but its development has been slow compared to its rivals.
“We see an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market […]. By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI, software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world,” Osterloh’s post reads.
The $2.1 billion acquisition is clearly to boost Google’s fledgling wearable ambitions rather than improve Fitbit. Google acquired Nest and acquihired parts of HTC in recent years – the former brand has gone on to become the name of Google’s smart home products, whereas HTC was a talent acquisition that bolstered Google’s Pixel phone output.
While those buys make sense given the state of the two acquired brands, Fitbit is less obvious. “Working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts” and a clear goal of improving Wear OS implies we may not see any more Fitbit products, unless Google’s expected new first-party wearables are Fitbit branded.
Fitbit itself bought and dissolved Pebble, taking its people and integrating Pebble software into Fitbit products. Pebble the brand no longer exists and this might be what Google wants to do with Fitbit. Fitbit said in its own blog post:
“Google is an ideal partner to advance our mission. With Google’s resources and global platform, Fitbit will be able to accelerate innovation in the wearables category, scale faster, and make health even more accessible to everyone. I could not be more excited for what lies ahead.”
These comments show, much like Osterloh’s, that the future is unclear and this may be because Fitbit’s place in the market is unclear. Fitbit CEO James Park may well be delighted that Google has bailed him out. Fitbit’s employees may be less thrilled about their uncertain futures.
The company’s stock price surged 17% following news of the Google buyout, but is still much lower than it was following its 2015 IPO. With sales stalling with global competition from the ultra-cheap Xiaomi Mi Band tracker and the dominant Apple Watch smartwatch, Fitbit’s sales have plateaued.
Its incredibly similar Versa, Versa Lite and Versa 2 smartwatches are testament to a company treading water. Its Inspire and Inspire HR fitness trackers are its older Alta bands repackaged. Where Apple has consistently improved Apple Watch’s software over five years (with the current watchOS version compatible with all but the first-generation Watch), Fitbit chose to churn out new hardware rather than noticeably improve the on-device software of its existing products. Its simpler trackers are better products than its smartwatches for this reason.
Basic fitness tracking aside, Fitbit’s smartwatches are horrible for everything else from a user perspective, with a wilting app store and horrendous notification implementation.
Google is in a similar position with Wear OS. The software can do smartwatch things fairly well but is a dire fitness tracking platform, and just like with Android phones there are too many Wear OS devices out there given Google licenses the software to any company.
Let’s also not forget Google is a company that monetises data and it has, presumably, also acquired all the user data for Fitbit’s 28 million active users. Who knows how Google will decide to advertise to those people or who it’ll sell their user data to?
Fitbit recently introduced a premium monthly subscription service that adds training programs and health advice, which some will baulk at paying extra for if they’ve just forked out over £200 for a Fitbit smartwatch. It smacked of a company treading water after 12 years honing its wearables. The Google acquisition comes as little surprise.
Fitbit is a strong brand with a floundering overall product. Google may keep the Fitbit brand and integrate it with Wear OS, but it’ll take more than a truncated branding exercise to elevate Wear OS to more than it currently is – playing catch up.
We have tested all the trackers and smartwatches, so find out which Fitbit is best. And we have also searched the Internet for the best Fitbit deals, so you can save money and get healthier at the same time.