Friday, November 1, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Google Acquires Fitbit

Rick Osterloh (via MacRumors, Hacker News):

Today, we’re announcing that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit, a leading wearables brand.

[…]

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 as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market. 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.

Fitbit:

Consumer trust is paramount to Fitbit. Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of Fitbit’s DNA since day one, and this will not change. Fitbit will continue to put users in control of their data and will remain transparent about the data it collects and why. The company never sells personal information[…]

Except, I guess, when they sell all of it to Google at once.

Mike Wuerthele:

Multiple analysts say that Fitbit’s value has more to do with user data collection, more than hardware. The company has been making deals with insurance companies to bundle the product in with customer health offerings, and is trying to expand its revenue in a crowded low-end fitness tracking market, increasingly squeezed by the Apple Watch.

Dieter Bohn:

Fitbit is going to be part of Google’s hardware division, this is about Google getting smarter at making wearable hardware -- Wear OS is almost tangential to this deal from what I can tell.

I stand by everything I wrote earlier this week when the Fitbit acquisition was just a rumor.

Think of this like the HTC acquisition: it will make Google slightly better at making wearable hardware. But Fitbit doesn’t make processors.

Buying Fitbit won’t help Google overcome Apple’s biggest smartwatch advantage It’s the silicon, stupid

….and Fitbit’s platform will need to be supported for 3? at least 3 years preferably much more alongside Wear OS. There’s also Google Fit.

Basically this integration is going to take forever and there is a good chance it’ll be messy and involve a long Nest-esque falllow period

Update (2019-11-02): See also: Hacker News.

17 Comments

Well that announcement was good timing. Next week I’m going to be in the vicinity of an Apple store with a couple hours to kill. I was thinking about stopping in and taking a look at the Apple Watch. Now I’ll definitely be buying an Apple Watch. I’ve had a Fitbit for a little over three years since I got a programming job at a company that offers its employees a free Fitbit. I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my life. I’m no longer out of breath when I walk up my driveway and I can go on hikes without ending up with severe knee pain. But I’d rather put up with Apple’s current software quality issues than let Google own my health data.

Funny what Fitbit says about letting users control their data. There is a very big and still active thread at their user's forum complaining about being unable to delete notifications and messages and saved runs in bulk from one's phone (and the site too). Fitbit's moderator says we hear you, but we aren't going to do it. This is a serious problem. Some women have complained about being unable to prevent or dispose of harassing messages, and I've noted that my run maps make it pretty obvious where I live. This is not good. I've since moved to an Apple Watch 4 (I needed the high-end cardiac functions for medical reasons). I doubt that deleting my Fitbit account will dispose of my data - they obviously want to hang on to it. GDPR anyone?

Anonymous coward

I work on a leading fitness app for iOS and Android and the number of users that use the app with a Wear device is vanishingly small. Seeing that Google Fit is nearly abandon-ware with major issues ignored for months (https://www.androidpolice.com/2019/07/09/google-fit-has-been-broken-for-months-with-no-sign-of-a-fix/) making it completely unusable, I really hope that Google ditches the whole ecosystem and replaces it around the FitBit ecosystem. Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

>Apple’s biggest smartwatch advantage It’s the silicon, stupid

I don't get it. What exact hardware advantage does Apple have when it comes to smartwatches? They have the same features as everybody else, and worse battery life.

>But I’d rather put up with Apple’s current software quality issues than let Google own my health data.

Withings makes nice devices, too.

@Lukas: They are the only company having a big enough market to invest in smart watch silicon. They have a performance lead of many years overs concurrent's silicon (Qualcomm stopped updating its smart watch silcons years ago)

Sören Nils Kuklau

They have the same features as everybody else, and worse battery life.

Competitors’ watches tend to be far bigger and heavier:

Why Aren’t Smartwatches Smaller? (One possible answer: because chipsets that small aren’t available)
Apple Watch vs. Android Wear: Why most all smartwatches suck for small wrists

(I’d love to see a newer comparison, if someone knows one.)

Now, yes, a pure fitness tracker will have way better battery life than Apple Watch. And if that’s what you’re mainly using it for, then you should consider if Apple Watch is the right product for you. But as far as smartwatches go, Apple seems to have either a technical lead, and/or be uniquely interested in marketing to women / people who prefer smaller wristwatches.

>They have a performance lead of many years overs concurrent's silicon

And yet the watch still doesn't hold a charge for a single day. Something doesn't add up.

>Competitors’ watches tend to be far bigger and heavier:

My Galaxy Watch seems to be about the same size as the Apple watches I've seen, and it gets three days of battery life with a screen that's constantly on. The 40mm Apple watch might be a little bit smaller - I've never seen one, so I'm not sure how big it is in real life. And anyways, there's also a smaller version of the Galaxy Watch.

I'm not sure about the weight, I guess it depends on which specific watch and band you use. Some of these options are pretty heavy. But at worst, we're talking about a difference measured in grams.

>Now, yes, a pure fitness tracker will have way better battery life than Apple Watch

I'm really not talking about fitness trackers. I don't think there's a single non-Apple smartwatch, either from Samsung or running Google's OS, that has as bad a battery life as Apple's watches. Even the old first-gen LG smartwatch I used to have kept running for at least two days before it required recharging.

>Apple seems to have either a technical lead

How? Apple's watches seem to be worse than the competition in every way, and cost more to boot. I get that people might prefer watchOS to Google's mediocre offering, or to Samsung's pretty nice wearable OS, and that's fine. But the hardware Apple is producing here is just weirdly inadequate.

>uniquely interested in marketing to women

LG, Asus, and Samsung all have women's smartwatches. I'm sure others do as well.

@lukas

>And yet the watch still doesn't hold a charge for a single day. Something doesn't add up.

Depends on your usage. My Watch3 regularly lasts 2 days.

The thing I am glad they finally fixed is being able to buy the watch without a strap. Apple only makes watches for people with thin wrists - none of theirs will do up around my wrist.

>Depends on your usage

Yeah, of course. My assumption is that people who use these devices actually use their features. My Galaxy watch lasts three days with every feature turned on, including continuous heartbeat monitoring and an always-on screen, and with regular usage. If I start turning things off, it can easily go for a month on a single charge, but then, I could just use a regular watch that pretty much goes forever.

My point here isn't really that people should be using the Galaxy watch - use whatever watch works best for you. Personally, I think watch faces should be round, but if you're into square watches, or prefer Apple's ecosystem, or just like the Apple watch, that's great. My point is rather that people should demand more of Apple, instead of ignoring what everybody else is doing and pretending that Apple does everything best. Doing that with OS X and their Mac hardware for a decade is what got us to today.

Sören Nils Kuklau

My Galaxy Watch seems to be about the same size as the Apple watches I’ve seen, and it gets three days of battery life with a screen that’s constantly on. The 40mm Apple watch might be a little bit smaller - I’ve never seen one, so I’m not sure how big it is in real life. And anyways, there’s also a smaller version of the Galaxy Watch.

Given you say there’s a smaller version, I assume you have the 46 mm. It has more than twice the volume as the 40mm Apple Watch (46*49*13mm)/(40*34*10.7mm).

I’m not sure about the weight, I guess it depends on which specific watch and band you use. Some of these options are pretty heavy. But at worst, we’re talking about a difference measured in grams.

Depends on the material — not counting bands, the Galaxy Watch weighs 63g, and the Apple Watch 39.8g (Steel) and 30.1g (Aluminum).

And while the details are more complicated I’m sure, part of the explanation is the battery capacity: 472 mAh vs. 245 mAh. Which basically explains the vastly better battery life, but also the larger volume and weight…

How? Apple’s watches seem to be worse than the competition in every way, and cost more to boot. I get that people might prefer watchOS to Google’s mediocre offering, or to Samsung’s pretty nice wearable OS, and that’s fine. But the hardware Apple is producing here is just weirdly inadequate.

I can’t comment on that (it seems either wearOS is so terrible Samsung didn’t want to touch it, or Samsung wanted some more independence from Google this time around), but “inadequate” isn’t an adjective I’d use.

I’m more concerned that they still haven’t quite figured out the killer app.

LG, Asus, and Samsung all have women’s smartwatches. I’m sure others do as well.

Like I said, I’d love to see a newer version of Serenity’s comparison, which is two years old at this point. Has something changed?

My point is rather that people should demand more of Apple, instead of ignoring what everybody else is doing and pretending that Apple does everything best. Doing that with OS X and their Mac hardware for a decade is what got us to today.

Sure.

I just don’t think Apple Watch is a good example of that. They seem do be doing fairly well there.

They clearly chose a different tradeoff between size, weight, and battery life than some (all?) competitors. It doesn’t follow that their choice is wrong.

@Lukas: ”Apple's watches seem to be worse than the competition in every way”

Are you just trolling? Or the sunk cost of buying a Galaxy Watch? I don't have any smart watch but from all I've read of serious reviews and heard from users it seems like Apple are way ahead of the competition, *especially* when it comes to silicon and hardware.

You seem stuck on the battery life as the sole indicator of quality. Indeed, Apple Watch doesn't last for days, so if that's all that counts then they're bad. But judging by the sales it seems like customers are at least ok with the current battery life and the compromise Apple made when it comes to quality, size, performance, features, integration and battery life.

(It kind of reminds me of the discussion back when iPhone was released and we used to have *weeks* of standby time on our old dumb phones, mostly because they weren't small computers with large screens that we used for hours every day. It seemed outrageous that we would have to charge our phones *every night* coming from that perspective.)

> It has more than twice the volume as the 40mm Apple Watch

Sure, the larger Samsung watch is bigger than the smaller Apple watch. It's a little bit bigger than, but comparable to the larger Apple watch. Similarly, the smaller Galaxy watch is a little bit bigger than the smaller Apple watch.

BTW, I don't think it makes sense to indicate the volume of the Galaxy watches in three dimensions, since they're not square, so those dimensions include a lot of empty space. If I find somebody with an Apple watch, I'll dunk it in water and report back about the exact volumetric differences :-)

Does any of this actually matter? I can't comment on which watches women prefer, but for me, the difference in size and weight between the Apple watch and the Galaxy watch is completely irrelevant. This is the same problem I also have with the iPhone, and to a smaller degree, with MacBooks. I don't care that Apple made these things .8mm thinner, what I care about is battery life, full-sized USB and HDMI ports, and an Ethernet port.

>They clearly chose a different tradeoff between size, weight, and battery life than some (all?) competitors. It doesn’t follow that their choice is wrong.

I'm not making the argument that Apple's choice is wrong because it is different. I'm making the argument that Apple's choice is wrong, and that other manufacturers show that it can be done better.

> You seem stuck on the battery life as the sole indicator of quality

It's not the sole indicator of quality. But a watch that doesn't consistently hold a charge for 24 hours means that I can't do sleep tracking without charging the watch twice a day, which seems like a pretty substantial flaw, given how important things like heart rate monitoring and fitness tracking are in Apple's own watch marketing material. Also, having bad battery life means that you might want to turn off features like the always-on screen, which makes the watch substantially less convenient.

Poor battery life has real-world consequences.

> judging by the sales

Why are you judging things by their sales? This is one of these things that I don't quite understand. I'm Apple's customer. I'm not their shareholder (well, I am, but not to the point where it actually matters to a substantial degree). I don't benefit from their sales (much).

I benefit from a good product, so I judge the product by its merits, not by its sales.

Apple still sells a lot of MacBooks, but that doesn't make their keyboards not break.

(Also, even as a shareholder, I don't care about this quarter's sales, I care about the long-term health of the company.)

> It seemed outrageous that we would have to charge our phones *every night* coming from that perspective

Phones have a different usage pattern than watches. I don't use my phone at night, so I'm fine with plugging it in overnight.

But yes, one of the reasons I'm not using an iPhone anymore is that iPhones also have terrible battery life, and none of the iPhones I owned consistently held a charge for a full day, particularly during days when I really needed them to hold a charge - e.g. when I was in a place I'd never been before, and thus heavily relied on maps. So yeah, that's one reason I'm now using an Android phone.

So I agree, this is another example where people just put up with Apple's bad hardware design choices, which allows Apple to continue shipping bad hardware. If people were more vocal, perhaps Apple would ship a phone with a larger battery.

Sören Nils Kuklau

BTW, I don’t think it makes sense to indicate the volume of the Galaxy watches in three dimensions, since they’re not square, so those dimensions include a lot of empty space.

Fair.

Still, volume and weight plays a huge role, especially when the battery takes up so much of it.

I’m not making the argument that Apple’s choice is wrong because it is different. I’m making the argument that Apple’s choice is wrong, and that other manufacturers show that it can be done better.

OK, but the sales numbers suggest the opposite: that Apple is making good choices.

But a watch that doesn’t consistently hold a charge for 24 hours means that I can’t do sleep tracking without charging the watch twice a day, which seems like a pretty substantial flaw, given how important things like heart rate monitoring and fitness tracking are in Apple’s own watch marketing material.

Well, for one, Apple isn’t marketing the Apple Watch for sleep tracking, at least not yet. Sleep tracking is only possible at all with third-party apps. And perhaps the reason they’re not doing it themselves is that they agree with you: that battery life isn’t yet good enough to make sleep tracking an appropriate use case.

But, to be clear, I and many others have been using it for sleep tracking (with Autosleep in my case). I charge it a little before going to sleep, and then again a little in the morning while under the shower. It’s not great, but… it works. I find myself wishing I could charge it a little while wearing it. Maybe inductive charging will eventually get there?

(Unlike, say, a laptop or smartphone, I can’t just connect a cord and continue using it. I have to first un-tie the band, rendering it non-functional while charging.)

Poor battery life has real-world consequences.

Yes, definitely.

All trade-offs do.

So I agree, this is another example where people just put up with Apple’s bad hardware design choices, which allows Apple to continue shipping bad hardware. If people were more vocal, perhaps Apple would ship a phone with a larger battery.

I really don’t think this is the same kind of design mistake as, say, the infamous butterfly keyboard.

>OK, but the sales numbers suggest the opposite: that Apple is making good choices.

Sales numbers don't make my experience with Apple's products better. If your argument is that it must be good because people buy it, well, then you clearly don't know any people :-D

> Apple isn’t marketing the Apple Watch for sleep tracking

Yes, but it's marketing it as a health tracking tool. Personally, I always just assumed that it would do sleep tracking, since that is such an obvious thing to do, and pretty much all other devices do it. It was only a few months ago when I figured out that it did not, in fact, track sleep out of the box.

Sören Nils Kuklau

If your argument is that it must be good because people buy it

No, but it can’t be complete garbage if people buy it.

There’s got to be something that makes the Apple Watch quite a success, and it sure isn’t the low price tag.

Arguably, its battery life is one of the criteria where it’s merely (barely?) good enough.

Yes, but it’s marketing it as a health tracking tool.

Right, which also works OK for me.

>>Yes, but it’s marketing it as a health tracking tool.
>Right, which also works OK for me.

Maybe I'm not making my argument clearly enough. Tracking sleep is an integral part of tracking one's health. If a device is marketed as a health tracking tool, but can't properly track sleep, while pretty much all other devices in that same segment can track sleep properly out of the box, then that's clearly some kind of design flaw.

>There’s got to be something that makes the Apple Watch quite a success

I'm usually not somebody who claims that people buy Apple products merely because they're fashionable, but it's pretty obvious that Apple views the watch as a fashion accessory, that people typically buy watches as fashion accessories, and that it thus stands to reason that many buy the Apple watch for that reason.

That's not to say that it isn't also a useful device for many people, but I don't think utility is the primary reason for the sales numbers.

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