Well, it’s official. Google bought Fitbit this morning for $2.1 billion dollars after submitting an offer on Monday. Rick Osterloh, SVP of Devices & Services at Google, issued a blog post announcing the acquisition and kicked off it off with this (emphasis mine):
Today, we’re announcing that Google has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Fitbit, a leading wearables brand.
We believe technology is at its best when it can fade into the background, assisting you throughout your day whenever you need it. Wearable devices, like smartwatches and fitness trackers, do just that—you can easily see where your next meeting is with just a glance of an eye or monitor your daily activity right from your wrist.
When I read Osterloh’s post this morning, the statement above jumped out at me because it sounded very familiar. Sure enough, through a quick Google search (how fitting), I realized that I had read a similar statement in Ben Thompson’s write up on Google’s Made by Google 19 event. Here’s what Osterloh said on stage there:
“In the mobile era, smartphones changed the world. It’s super useful to have a powerful computer everywhere you are. But it’s even more useful when computing is anywhere you need it, always available to help. Now you heard me talk about this idea with Baratunde, that helpful computing can be all around you — ambient computing. Your devices work together with services and AI, so help is anywhere you want it, and it’s fluid. The technology just fades into the background when you don’t need it. So the devices aren’t the center of the system, you are. That’s our vision for ambient computing.”
He then added this:
“The Google Assistant plays a critical role here. It pulls everything together and gives you a familiar, natural way to get the help you need. Our users tell us they find the Google Assistant to be smart, user-friendly, and reliable, and that’s so important for ambient technology. Interactions need to feel natural and intuitive. Here’s an example: if you want to listen to music, the experience should be the same whether you are in the kitchen, you are driving in your car, or hanging out with friends. No matter what you are doing, you should be able to just say the name of the song and the music just plays without you having to pull out a phone and tap on screens or push buttons.”
Through Osterloh’s statements today and two weeks prior when he was on stage, it’s clear that Google’s Fitbit acquisition is another step toward enabling the technology to, “fade into the background.” Put in a different way, the means by which the technology fades into the background is via Google Assistant. Rather than the user constantly having to engage with their device, be it phone or smart watch, Google is attempting to offload as many aspects to said engagement as possible to Google Assistant. Just look at the example Osterloh provides in the last quote above regarding music: simple voice commands as opposed to tapping, touching, swiping.
Less is more in this emerging ambient age.
The other aspect to this acquisition is around health data. Every tech company is currently looking for inroads into the $3.65 TRILLION dollar healthcare market, and one of the most promising avenues seems to be around collecting and housing biometric data through wearable devices. Apple is way out ahead in this regard, in terms of the sheer number of Apple Watches in the market, its Health app and the affiliate software development kids, and the partnerships its been cementing with various institutions to support Apple Health records.
If you say biometric data collection (or monitoring) in the same sentence as Google, you’re likely to receive a reaction from many people along the lines of, “thanks, but, no thanks.” Data privacy and trust is a concern for many consumers these days, and therefore, Google getting into the business of collecting and storing health data will be an uphill battle for a company rooted in the business of selling user data. It’s a big part of the reason why Apple is leaning so heavily into data security and privacy.
Google recognizes this though, just look at what Osterloh had to say in his post regarding this topic:
“Google aspires to create tools that help people enhance their knowledge, success, health and happiness. This goal is closely aligned with Fitbit’s long-time focus on wellness and helping people live healthier, more active lives. But to get this right, privacy and security are paramount. When you use our products, you’re trusting Google with your information. We understand this is a big responsibility and we work hard to protect your information, put you in control and give you transparency about your data. Similar to our other products, with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect and why. We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data. “
Data privacy concerns aside, Google Assistant seems to me the most obvious area for Google to really differentiate its Fitbit wearables from Apple’s. If Google Assistant is far more capable of how it can utilize my health data in helpful ways, whether it be “health coaching” or proactive notifications of what its assessing with the data, then the positives might outweigh the potential concerns I have on the privacy side.
Google Assistant is an appreciating asset for Google and the rate at which it’s appreciating is largely rooted in Apple’s inattention toward Siri. Utilizing its Fitbit wearables to more broadly expose the market to just how superior Google Assistant is to Siri, which may become increasingly more pronounced, might be Google’s best option to sway more consumers to consider opting into the Google Pixel (not Android) ecosystem.
For me, I’m excited that wearables are becoming a prominent piece of all the major tech companies. Competition breeds innovation and that’s what I’m really interested in when it comes to wearables. I believe body-worn computers, whether they’re worn on the wrist, ear, or eyes, are going to be a foundational aspect to the next wave of computing and Google wading deeper into the wearable waters is going to only raise the stakes.
-Thanks for Reading-