Google Fitbit buyout bolsters ambient computing bid

The purchase of the SF-based fitness tracker is another piece in the puzzle for connecting with users any place, any time.
1 November 2019

Fitbit is an American company headquartered in San Francisco creating products for activity trackers that measure data in fitness. Source: Shutterstock

Google has made a grab for a sizeable share of the wearables market, as parent company Alphabet announces it will buy Fitbit in a deal that values the firm at approximately US$2.1 million. 

Google is paying US$7.35 per share in cash for the San Francisco-based fitness tracker technology company. The buyout would put Google in head to head with Apple in what has become a lucrative market. 

The global market value of fitness trackers sat at US$18 million in 2016, but it’s expected to triple in size reaching US$62 million by 2023, according to Allied Market Research.

It’s not Google’s first foray into the wearables market. While it faltered with the launch of Google Glass, the firm has already developed its health-tracking platform Google Fit and smartwatch Android operating system Wear OS. 

Google also purchased smartwatch intellectual property with the US$40 million buyout of Fossil’s technology earlier this year. Up until now, though, its work in the space has been with partner watch brands such as Skagen and Emporio Armani.  

Google’s Senior Vice President, Devices & Services, Rick Osterloh, said: “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.

“Google also remains committed to Wear OS and our ecosystem partners, and we plan to work closely with Fitbit to combine the best of our respective smartwatch and fitness tracker platforms.”

Google has said it won’t use data— which would include steps taken, distance walked, sleep duration, heartbeat monitoring, as well as location and other user-inputted data— collected from fitness trackers for advertising and will remain “transparent” about its use. 

“Similar to our other products, with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect and why. We will never sell personal information to anyone,” said Osterloh. 

“Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data.”

Ramping up its stake in wearables feeds into Google’s play for ambient computing, meaning its users can access its services from wherever they are, whatever they are doing. 

“Our vision for ambient computing is to create a single, consistent experience at home, at work or on the go, whenever you need it,” said Osterloh in October. 

“Your devices and services work together,” he said. “And it’s fluid so it disappears into the background.”

The purchase of Fitbit will help fill one piece of that puzzle, with wearables and smartwatches representing just one type of many pieces of hardware, which allows the firm to sell new kinds of services. 

The firm already has smart speakers, and connected home software with Nest, while, at its Made By Google hardware event last month, the firm launched its answer to Apple’s AirPods with Pixel Buds. 

All this helps Google widen its net in terms of the channels it can use to connect with its users away from screens while, of course, enriching the data it gathers on them.