Last Friday, Google cut $ 2.1 billion to acquire Fitbit . If you paid attention to wearables, the news was not exactly a surprise. Google is heading into the smartwatch space for what feels like aeons, and although Fitbit is shelling out [$ $ 23 million to buy Pebble in 2017, its foray into smartwatches is a mixed bag. Naturally, Google, with its deep pockets and seemingly renewed interest in wearables, will reach out to the struggling giant's "helping hand." Fitbit gets some much needed money, and Google gets a favorite brand with hardware know-how, an active 28 million customer base and a wealth of data. The deal looks smart on paper, but I'm not sold that buying Fitbit will miraculously solve Google's wear problem.
In a blog post announcing the sale, Rick Osterloch of Google writes that he sees it as "an opportunity to invest more in Wear OS and to bring Made of Google wearable devices to the market. "Again, no surprise. Even Google knows that platform is a hot, stinking mess. Except that Wear OS sucks less is not the main obstacle here. The platform was a violent, unintuitive nightmare when it first launched as Android Wear, but since it redirected to Wear OS, Google has done a lot to make it more bearable .
The problem is that Google has a serious hardware problem. OS Wear watches are linked to Qualcomm silicon, and the disaster that was Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip is well documented . The Wear 2100 was already out of date, with Qualcomm dragging its feet and updating it for more than two years. Its successor, the Snapdragon Wear 3100, did not see the light of day until very late 2018. Even then, there was only one available option – Fossil Sport . Only this fall, more watches with a capacity of 3100 even hit the market .
Without a meaningful chip, Google and other third parties have never had a reason to invest in Wear OS – hence why they have been treated like a forgotten step-child for so long. Players like Motorola, Asus and LG just left the game, while others decided it was better to create their own software. Samsung decided not to worry and built Tizen, its own operating system powered by its silicon Exynos. Similarly, while Huawei used Wear OS (then Android Wear 2.0) for its Watch 2, it chose its LiteOS for its latest Huawei Watch GT.
Theoretically, this means that acquiring a Fitbit should be a good thing. If 's hardware is what Knee Wear OS uses, and Fitbit' s hardware has always been solid, then that would look perfect. This is until you remember that Fitbit did its damnest thing to avoid the Wear OS platform. When it came time to build his own smartwatch, he decided to buy Pebble and build Fitbit OS from scratch rather than playing in Google's sandbox for the aforementioned reasons . Switching to Wear OS meant that Fitbit did not have to adhere to the platform's hardware limitations. For example, the fact that Fitbit turned its nose at Wear OS meant it could provide a 5-day battery life – a feat impossible with both the Snapdragon Wear 2100 and 3100 chips. It also means that none of the existing technologies of Fitbit cannot work with Wear OS. What's more, Fitbit OS is born of the simple, relatively bare-bones Pebble software. Which means that ( you knew it) Fitbit OS also can't power Wear OS hardware.
What is missing here is a chip that is not sucked in. Qualcomm has clearly inflated it repeatedly. Google, developing your own silicon, is not impossible – it's just expensive, risky, and time consuming. Even if Google is quick to either create its own chip or get someone else to do it for them, every wearable created by Google has a lot of lot that has to end. Apple is already on its second generation of ECG-enabled smart watches, and Samsung is not far behind. He added an ECG capability to the Galaxy Watch Active2 and while the function was not yet active, the ball was already rolling. Phoebe has been quietly working on the detection of atrial fibrillation for some time, but this does not seem to be in the cards through the ECG . In the meantime, the best Wear OS clocks to offer right now is the application Cardiogram recently introduced on Gen 5 Fossil watches .
So, if the hardware benefits are at best long-term, that means that the real reward for Google is this huge set of Fitbit data – at this point it's been worth about a decade. This and access to Fitbit's algorithms can be invaluable in improving Google's own health software. (To be blunt, Google Fit is just a sad potato app.) But with this data, the question of privacy arises. One of the strengths of Fitbit is that it has a highly committed community. With 28 million active users in Google's interest, it is in the interest of Google that Fitbit users are not massively fleeing the platform because of concerns that the company will misuse this data. On this front, there is good reason to believe that Google will use the same player book that it did with Nest.
Probably Fitbit will continue to work on its own for the time being. This is absolutely related to the fact that health data is sensitive at a completely different level – something that both companies have acknowledged. "Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of Fitbit's DNA since day one, and that will not change," the Fitbit press release said. "Fitbit will continue to put users in control of its data and remain transparent about the data it collects and why. The company never sells personal information and Fitbit's health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. "Likewise, in a Google Post Osterloh emphasized that" Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. , And we will give Fitbit users the choice to view, move, or delete their data. ”
Cool, except Nest said the same. In 2015, Nest founder Tony Fadell told the BBC : "When you work with Nest and use Nest products, that data does not enter the larger Google or any of [its] other business units." The nest is completely swallowed up, these promises are controversial. Still, it took nearly five years to get to this point, and it would be quite bold for Google to push the knife into Fitbit before it has a viable smart watch capable of competing with Apple or Samsung.
Really, it's hard to imagine seeing Google's advanced, high quality smart watch in the short to medium term. If Google was so inclined, it could probably spit out a simple Fitbit Inspire search activity bar and hit the Pixel name on it. Or, since Fitbit has just added Alexa to Versa 2 the next Fitbit watch Fitbit can easily be included in Google Assistant as well. It's not a terrible start, but far from the polished Pixel Watch we're all waiting for.