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Google buys Fitbit. What does that mean for both us and for consumers?

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At the beginning of the week it was leaking the news of Google's interest in buying Fitbit. The source simply indicated that they were in talks, but it seems that everything was already well advanced because The purchase was confirmed today through a press release pretty short.

This is undoubtedly a very important piece of news, not only because Google is involved in the purchase but also because Fitbit is a very important player in the activity monitor sector. And it is also important because of the amount that Google is going to pay: 2.1 billion dollars.

But beyond the news itself, I think it's interesting to analyze the why of this purchase, what Google gets thanks to it but mainly, what it represents for consumers.

Why Fitbit is sold

Fitbit had been stagnating for a while. I wouldn't say it was "drifting", but it was in no man's land. They didn't know if they wanted to be an activity-monitoring company or if they wanted to opt for the smart watch segment.

These doubts about its identity have led to a lack of development. Despite the purchase of Pebble to create its Fitbit OS present in the most expensive models of the brand (Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit Versa and the new Fitbit Versa 2It's not something that Wear OS can boast about either, but in that sense it's definitely a much more mature operating system.

Fitbit thought that with the purchase of Pebble it would attract the community of developers; creating Fitbit Studio, a software development platform for the clock perfectly documented and easy to use for programming.

Fitbit Studio

However, something didn't work out because it didn't attract the community that Pebble was definitely working for.

Fitbit OS was the only bet on the future for Fitbit, and it didn't get off the ground. The new Versa 2 didn't come with any notable new features beyond its integration with Alexa and its always on screen. They still sell millions of units a year, but the bulk of sales are in the lower segment of the market with products like Inspire or Charge, with a low profit margin. What Fitbit is interested in is selling millions of Ionic and Versa.

Fitbit 2019 range

However the Smartwatch range has to deal with rivals of the likes of Apple Watch, or the ability of brands like Huawei or Samsung to launch several models each year.

Renew or die, a maxim in the business world that Fitbit couldn't take on. He made his move, but it didn't work out the way they expected. The way to sell to a much more powerful player was becoming clearer.

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What the purchase of Fitbit means to Google

Google has been trying to dominate the wearable market for many years, but the strategy that has worked for Android has not worked for smart watches.

Android Wear first and its subsequent evolution, Wear OS, have not achieved the penetration capability that Apple has with Watch OS.

Does that mean that Google has purchased Fitbit to use Fitbit OS on its watchesNot at all. In fact my bet is that in the medium term (and even short term), Fitbit OS will disappear in favor of integrating all its platform in Wear OS. Google wants to continue developing its operating system, and for that purpose Fitbit's activity and health monitoring functions are vital.

Yes, Google has Google Fit, but it's not even close to the level of platform that Fitbit has achieved over the years. Without a doubt, Fitbit's platform is the best for activity monitoring, because it's the one that gets users more involved with competitions with friends and the one that has the best social concept.

Google even drops between the lines in its press release that Fitbit OS' days are numbered.

Over the years, Google has made progress with partners in this space with Wear OS and Google Fit, but we see an opportunity to invest even more in Wear OS Fitbit has been a true pioneer in the industry and has created engaging products, experiences and a vibrant community of users. 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.

Moreover, unlike mobile phones, Google has not yet launched a smart watch of its own. It has always been through collaborations with different manufacturers, but they have not managed to design a product of their own. Now they have the opportunity to do so, perhaps first under the Fitbit brand but later under their own brand such as Pixel.

This does not mean that Fitbit's activity bracelets will disappear, and consequently Fitbit's platform. Its market penetration remains very high and it would be absurd to do without it.

Obviously with the purchase of Fitbit Google gets patents (I'm sure Fitbit will have hundreds of them) and brains that are the architects of having managed to bring Fitbit where it is today. And on top of all this, millions of users.

What does it mean for current Fitbit users?

If you're currently a Fitbit user you have nothing to worry about. Just because the purchase was announced today doesn't mean you'll start working under Google's umbrella tomorrow. I don't think Fitbit will be under Google's umbrella until well into 2020.

But in the medium term the future is pretty dark for Fitbit as a platform. In fact if one reads the Google blog entry the feeling of talking about Fitbit in the past tense.

What is clear is that there will be changes, just as there have been in Nest after the purchase by Google. To begin with, I don't expect anything new to happen with Fitbit OS as a platform. It would not make sense to allocate resources to an operating system that, everything seems to indicate, will end up disappearing under the yoke of Wear OS.

If your doubt is whether your Fitbit bracelet will stop working tomorrow, not at all. Not after that either. And not next year either.

The future of Fitbit... and Google

Within the 2.1 billion dollars that Google will pay for the purchase, an important part is also in the purchase of the brand. Fitbit, as a commercial brand, is quite recognized and I would bet that the vast majority of buyers have good references of it.

I think this acquisition is positive for both companies. It means a rebirth for Fitbit, which had lost its capacity to innovate and bring fresh and new products to the market. Now, with Google and its financial lung, they can think of possibilities they didn't even dream of before.

For Google, it also means rebirth. Wear OS has been stagnant for quite some time and manufacturers are less and less interested in the operating system. In fact, big manufacturers such as Samsung or Huawei are choosing to create their own operating systems. What remains are mostly manufacturers that have little to do with the segment and do not have much to contribute to the platform.

Maybe Fitbit is what Google needed to be able to compete with Apple Watch on a one-to-one basis, or maybe not, but we won't know until we see Google's first development with Fitbit, which will probably hit the market in October or November 2020 before the Christmas period.

Thanks for reading!

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