Google shells out $2.1B for Fitbit and its health-focused wearables

  • February 06, 2020

The tech giant described the deal as an opportunity to “invest even more in Wear OS” — Google’s software ecosystem for Android-powered smartwatches, which has struggled over the years to gain a large market share — as well as a new avenue for the company to build tools to enhance health.  “By working closely with Fitbit’s team of experts, and bringing together the best AI (artificial intelligence), software and hardware, we can help spur innovation in wearables and build products to benefit even more people around the world,” said Google’s Senior Vice President of Devices and Services, Rick Osterloh, in a company blog post.

The deal will be routed wholly through Google itself, and not its corporate parent umbrella Alphabet, which covers the healthcare-focused enterprises at Verily and Calico, among others.  It includes $7.35 for each of Fitbit’s shares, in cash, and is expected to close next year.

“More than 12 years ago, we set an audacious company vision — to make everyone in the world healthier,” said Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park.  “Today, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved towards reaching that goal.  We have built a trusted brand that supports more than 28 million active users around the globe who rely on our products to live a healthier, more active life.”

It is Google’s second wearable-focused acquisition this year:  In January, the company announced plans to buy the rights to an undisclosed smartwatch technology being developed by watchmaker Fossil for $40 million, and members of its R&D team also made the jump.  “Google is an ideal partner to advance our mission.  With Google’s resources and global platform, Fitbit will be able to accelerate innovation in the wearables category, scale faster, and make health even more accessible to everyone,” Park said.

With more than 100 million devices sold, Fitbit said it would remain platform-agnostic and continue working with both Android and Apple’s iOS.  Additionally, both companies were upfront about data privacy and security — saying that Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used to drive Google’s advertising.

The deal would also give Google a new connection to Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer — in mid-October 2019, Fitbit tapped an alliance of the two drug makers to help it bring atrial fibrillation detection to its wearables, not unlike that offered by the Apple Watch.  “With our continuous, 24/7 on-wrist health tracking capabilities, and our experience delivering personalized, engaging software and services, we believe we can develop content to help bridge the gaps that exist in atrial fibrillation detection, encouraging people to visit their doctor for a prompt diagnosis and potentially reduce their risk of stroke,” Park said at the time.

Meanwhile, Google has been working to consolidate its healthcare and healthcare-adjacent work under a single strategy.  It recently reincorporated projects from U.K.-based AI firm DeepMind, including its Streams mobile app for physicians as well as multiple data-sharing partnerships with National Health Service hospitals. 

REFERENCE:  Fierce BioTech; 01 NOV 2019; Connor Hale

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