Google is buying Fitbit for about $2.1 billion, enabling the internet company to step back into the hotly contested market for smartwatches and health trackers.
Fitbit is a pioneer in wearable fitness technology, but it’s been shredded by that competition. Google, meanwhile, has been developing Wear OS software for other manufacturers to build wearable devices, but they haven’t gained much traction in the face of competition from Fitbit, Apple, Samsung and others.
The deal to buy Fitbit could give Google a needed boost.
“Google doesn’t want to be left out of the party,” said analyst Daniel Ives of Wedbush Securities. “If you look at what Apple has done with wearables, it’s a missing piece of the puzzle for Google.”
Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute, a research group that focuses on competition and consolidation, said health care is one of the few industries big enough to help a company as large as Google keep growing.
The deal, expected to close next year, will likely face scrutiny from federal and state antitrust investigators that have launched probes this year. “It’s obviously embarrassing to enforcers if they allow it without any sort of scrutiny,” Stoller said.
Fitbit makes a range of devices, from basic trackers that mostly count steps to smartwatches that can display messages and notifications from phones.
They can track a range of fitness activities, such as running, cycling and swimming, along with heart rates and nightly sleep patterns. Fitbit typically asks for date of birth, gender, height and weight to help with calorie and other calculations. Some users also use Fitbit devices and its app to track food and water intake. Women can also track their periods.
Google said it won’t sell ads using the sensitive health data that Fitbit devices collect, continuing promises made by Fitbit.
But that likely won’t stop Google from sucking up other personal data from Fitbit devices. Fitbit also has GPS models that could track users’ locations. That could help Google know that a runner stopped at a coffee shop on the way back, allowing Google to then display ads for rival coffee shops.
More importantly, having a Google device on the wrist could drive its wearers to use Google services even more — giving Google more ways to collect data and sell ads.
Google’s announcement suggests that Fitbit will be absorbed into Google’s main business, rather than staying as an independent subsidiary of parent company Alphabet. That follows the trend of smart home device maker Nest, which was folded back into Google in 2018 after being a stand-alone company under Alphabet.
Fitbit has 28 million active users worldwide and has sold more than 100 million devices.
The Associated Press