The Fitbit acquisition is the easy way for Google to appear relevant in wearables
If you need to read one article about the acquisition of Fitbit by Google, look no further than Neil Cybart’s detailed and inspired take on Above Avalon:
How did Fitbit go from being considered the wearables leader to viewing a $2.1B acquisition as its best hope for shareholders to recoup any value? What led Fitbit to run out of options as an independent company? Two words: Apple Watch.
Today the Apple Watch is bigger than the iPod ever was.
Many manufacturers a few years ago looked at the Apple Watch and probably thought “we can do this,” and many observers keep thinking more or less that “since the iPad, Apple hasn’t come out with anything new and innovative.” Truth is, it is very hard to compete with Apple in wearables.
When it comes to miniaturisation of computers, design, and user experience, it is nearly impossible to follow Apple, as very few brands control both the hardware, the software, and the services on top of it as much as Apple does. Cybart writes:
Fitbit was squeezed as the company had no viable way to compete directly with Apple Watch. Fitbit’s existing business wasn’t profitable enough for management to ramp up R&D in an effort to go up against Apple. Fitbit had generated just $200M of free cash flow over the past five years. Apple spends that much on R&D in a few days.
Samsung is trying something interesting with Tizen on its smartwatches, and maybe Google will reboot its wearable strategy with Fitbit. But for now, when it comes to true smartwatches, nobody really competes with Apple in terms of revenue, profit, market share, and most importantly for Apple: customer satisfaction.
It is interesting to see how late Amazon is on consumer wearables, and how Microsoft just gave up a long time ago. Both are now tiptoeing towards the wearables market through wireless headphones and earbuds,1 but guess who is already there, crushing everyone else? I cannot spend one day, take one subway train, or sit in one subway car without seeing someone wearing AirPods. 2
With the release of AirPods Pro, Apple is putting another smart foot in the door of wearables: I wouldn’t be surprised if we witness another Fitbit-like acquisition in the coming months from one of the other big names left in the dark. Bose? Jabra? Plantronics? Your guess is as good as mine, but I see this happening rather sooner than later.3
Google too with the Pixels buds, and you can see how a Pixel smartwatch — with Fitbit’s cred — could fit in their line-up; doesn’t mean it will be any good or succeed. ↩︎
I won’t even mention another big player in the field: Apple’s Beats.text.↩︎
Good to know that Harman International, owner of harman/kardon, JBL, Mark Levinson, AKG, and Bang & Olufsen, was acquired by Samsung in 2016 for US$8 billion.↩︎