There’s really no winner in Google’s acquisition of smartwatch company Fitbit, rumored earlier this week and formally announced this morning.
To put it bluntly, Google, a company with a rocky history of wearable devices, paid $2.1 billion to purchase Fitbit, a company that, despite being the go-to brand for smartwatches and fitness trackers, has slipped by a self-inflicted over-saturated market for wearables. And customers are worse off because of it.
Google has said that the merger will allow them to revamp their own Wear OS (formerly Android Wear), a wearable operating system that has really fallen by the wayside in recent years as smartwatches, at least as “smartphones on your wrist” has failed to really take off; outside of the Apple Watch, most smartwatch consumers seem to prefer more simple, feature-light devices that mostly control music and track fitness. No one is realistically managing their email inbox on a small screen on their wrist.
On the other side, Fitbit’s operating system has gotten largely positive reviews of the company’s new Versa 2 watch, which leaves Google in a bind. Do they keep trying to “make fetch happen” with its Wear OS, or embrace the decent operating system already on Fitbit devices, maybe put a new coat of paint on it and some Google services and call it a day?
Personally, I think abandoning Wear OS would be the smart move here. Clearly, there hasn’t been a seismic demand for an Android version of Apple Watch, since those options that are already out there simply haven’t sold well enough to support that theory. Rather, Fitbit’s OS has so far provided much of what customers do want: great battery life, simple features, robust health tracking, and cross-platform compatibility that doesn’t lock you into a Google vs. Apple ecosystem.
Google has framed this purchase as the IP they need to perfect their plans for a Made By Google smartwatch (the Internet seems to have forgotten Google’s first attempts at a first-party smartwatch). That hints that Google is probably, unfortunately, pursuing Wear OS over Fitbit’s OS. What impact that has on the functionality and likability of the product is yet to be seen, as Fitbit’s large customer base will have to face Wear OS in all its bloat.
Fitbit certainly wasn’t a failure, as others have erroneously claimed. Regardless of your thoughts of the product, you have to admit that everywhere you go, if someone’s not wearing an Apple Watch, they’re wearing a Fitbit. For all intents and purposes, Fitbit had long been what Wear OS wanted to be, the de facto smartwatch for Android users. It only makes sense then that Google would want to claim that title for themselves; rather than build a good product in Wear OS, they simply took a shortcut and bought the competition (I still hold a grudge against Fitbit for playing the exact same power move against Pebble a few years ago).
The only question now is, what is Google going to do with this? Did they have a plan to fill the void now left by Fitbit? Or did it hastily just destroy the only real smartwatch option for those in the Google ecosystem?