Google says it’s closing the Fitbit acquisition—uh, without DOJ approval?

Google’s senior VP of {Hardware}, Rick Osterloh, announced Thursday that Google has closed its acquisition of Fitbit. The $2.1 billion deal was introduced back in November 2019 and kicked off a regulatory evaluation course of from governments world wide involved about Google’s affect over the Web and the info it may well acquire on customers.

Usually, Osterloh asserting that “Google has accomplished its acquisition of Fitbit, and I need to personally welcome this proficient group to Google” would imply Google has cleared its worldwide regulatory gauntlet. Google’s announcement at the moment is very uncommon because the Division of Justice has not but cleared the deal. Because the DOJ advised New York Instances reporter Cecilia Kang, “The Antitrust Division’s investigation of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit stays ongoing.” Australian regulators additionally have not introduced a last choice on the merger. It appears significantly provocative for Google to do one thing like this whereas it’s also coping with a DOJ antitrust investigation.

When requested concerning the standing of the DOJ’s merger investigation, a Google spokesperson advised Ars, “We complied with the DOJ’s in depth evaluation for the previous 14 months, and the agreed-upon ready interval expired with out their objection. We proceed to be in contact with them and we’re dedicated to answering any extra questions. We’re assured this deal will improve competitors within the extremely crowded wearables market, and we have made commitments that we plan to implement globally.”

Nonetheless the authorized points work out, the announcement does not give away so much about Google’s future plans for Fitbit. Osterloh begins by praising Fitbit’s current lineup, calling out the Fitbit Sense smartwatch, the Encourage 2 tracker, and varied Fitbit well being metrics. Google does not make low-cost health trackers, however the firm’s Google Match app has loads of overlap right here in each smartwatches and well being metrics. Google says it needs to “make well being and wellness extra accessible to extra folks” and “we’re assured the mix of Fitbit’s main expertise, product experience and well being and wellness innovation with the most effective of Google’s AI, software program and {hardware} will drive extra competitors in wearables and make the following technology of gadgets higher and extra inexpensive.”

Fitbit’s CEO, president, and co-founder James Park additionally has a blog post at the moment, saying, “Lots of the issues you already know and love about Fitbit will stay the identical. We’ll keep dedicated to doing what’s proper, to placing your well being and wellness on the middle of all the things we do, and to providing a no-one-size-fits-all method with selections that work throughout each Android and iOS.”

The Fitbit and Google overlap

Enlarge / The Fossil Gen 5 LTE, a Put on OS smartwatch introduced in 2021 with the identical CPU as a smartwatch from 2014.


Google’s current wearables platform, Put on OS, appears fairly lifeless. The working system’s final main replace was in 2018, and even earlier than that, Put on OS by no means had a stable {hardware} basis to construct on. Qualcomm—Android’s main SoC provider—by no means gave Put on OS an opportunity, selecting as a substitute to smother the smartwatch platform with completely horrible SoC releases. For the reason that beginnings of Put on OS in 2014, Qualcomm’s advertising division has created the Snapdragon 400, Put on 2100, and Put on 3100, however at their coronary heart, they’re all quad-core Cortex A7 SoC constructed on a 28nm manufacturing course of. It wasn’t till the 2020 announcement of the Wear 4100 that Qualcomm launched a wearables SoC that may benchmark increased than these authentic 2014 chips.

Then again, Put on OS’s main competitors, the Apple Watch, has the posh of Apple’s in-house SoC division, which see common efficiency enhancements yearly. Apple does not formally discuss a lot about chip specs, nevertheless it says the most recent Apple Watch S6 SoC relies on the A13 Bionic, and because the A13 is 7nm, the S6 most probably is, too. As a 12nm quad-core Cortex A53-based SoC, the Snapdragon Put on 4100 continues to be on no account aggressive with what Apple is placing out, with Qualcomm solely promising an 85 p.c efficiency enchancment in comparison with seven years in the past. If you’re ravenous to loss of life, although, all the things seems like a scrumptious meal.

Google Match has fallen sufferer to Google’s impulsiveness: the corporate says it cares a couple of sure market, nevertheless it simply can not seem to maintain merchandise targeted, operating, and well-supported in these markets. Put on OS used to have best-in-class weight-training tracking, which may mechanically detect and log exercise actions, however Google inexplicably killed the function about two months in the past. There was once a Google Match web site, which like Fitbit, would current all of your stats from a giant dashboard, however Google killed the Google Match web site in early 2019 after years of neglect. It ended up by no means supporting issues like Put on OS’s weight monitoring, which launched in 2017.

The Google Fit app.
Enlarge / The Google Match app.


Neither Google Match nor Put on OS was talked about a single time within the bulletins from Google and Fitbit Thursday.

Fitbit is not a slam-dunk acquisition within the well being sector, both. Whereas the corporate was a trailblazer within the authentic step-counter market and will (possibly) be seen as a worthwhile model, Fitbit’s market share has collapsed all the way down to single digits because of elevated competitors. Apple is attacking it from the excessive finish with the Apple Watch, and Chinese language corporations like Xiaomi are dominating within the low-cost step-counter market. How a Fitbit/Google team-up will clear up both of these issues is unclear. It additionally will not give Google smartwatches a secure, aggressive {hardware} platform, which they desperately want. This deal feels extra like two last-place corporations teaming as much as attempt to survive.

Privateness and the instance Nest has left

An enormous query concerning the Fitbit acquisition, just like the Nest acquisition earlier than it, is what Google will do with all of Fitbit’s knowledge. This topic was a serious battleground throughout the EU’s investigation into the deal, and Google has made some commitments to the EU so as to get the deal accredited.

Google’s facet of the story is specified by the weblog put up, with Osterloh saying, “This deal has at all times been about gadgets, not knowledge, and we have been clear because the starting that we are going to defend Fitbit customers’ privateness… Fitbit customers’ well being and wellness knowledge will not be used for Google adverts and this knowledge might be separated from different Google adverts knowledge.” Google additionally says it will not do something loopy with Android, like lock all Android telephones completely to Fitbit wearables, which apparently was one thing the EU was anxious about.

The EU’s a part of this is here and largely says the identical factor, noting, “Google will keep a technical separation of the related Fitbit’s consumer knowledge. The information might be saved in a ‘knowledge silo’ which might be separate from some other Google knowledge that’s used for promoting.” This sounds so much just like the data-separation pledge Google has for Nest, the place Google says it’ll “maintain your video footage, audio recordings, and residential atmosphere sensor readings separate from promoting.” The EU additionally says Google is dedicated to letting third events entry Fitbit knowledge by way of the Fitbit Net API. The period of Google’s dedication is 10 years.

Current Fitbit knowledge actually must be protected, and you’ll delete your Fitbit account here if you need to try this. Going ahead, although, Fitbit’s health monitoring and Google’s Put on OS health monitoring are so related that Google just isn’t actually getting a brand new knowledge stream from Fitbit acquisition. The one new product space is likely to be low-cost Fitbit-style step counters, however Android smartphones can already do this, and so can the Android smartwatches. Google will achieve extra customers because of the prevailing Fitbit consumer base, however as we have already mentioned, that is not very huge since all of the opponents have moved in.

There’s nonetheless a giant query of what is going to occur to Fitbit accounts. If we comply with the Nest story, which solely merged with Google in 2018 after a failed few years as a standalone Alphabet firm, huge modifications are in all probability coming for Fitbit customers. Nest customers noticed the Nest account system get killed off in favor of a compelled migration to a unified Google account. This additionally led to the lack of the “Works with Nest” API, which broke compatibility with different gadgets and companies. As a model, Nest was hollowed out and used for Google’s common sensible residence branding, changing the Google Dwelling speaker line, sensible shows, and Wi-Fi entry factors, whereas nonetheless getting used on authentic Nest merchandise like thermostats, cameras, and smoke detectors.

It actually looks as if Made by Google Fitbit-branded gadgets will ultimately arrive, and Google will in all probability enter the cheaper health tracker market. That does not clear up any of the issues which have stopped Google from competing in wearables earlier than, although. When Google and Fitbit individually could not compete with Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi, it isn’t clear why they assume their odds can be higher collectively.

Ars Coverage Reporter Kate Cox contributed to this report.

Itemizing picture by Fitbit

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