Google is acquiring Fitbit in a $2.1 billion deal. That could give smartwatch maker Fitbit a key advantage in areas where it's been lagging behind Apple.In addition to giving Fitbit more reach and resources for creating new products, Google's position as the operator behind the world's largest smartphone platform could help Fitbit develop better software for its watches and expand its app store.Such areas could be critical in helping Fitbit catch up to Apple, which is currently leading the smartwatch market.
Google is acquiring popular smartwatch maker Fitbit in a move that could potentially skyrocket the search giant to becoming one of the biggest players in the smartwatch industry.
There are still many questions about how the acquisition will play out that have yet to be answered — such as whether current Fitbit products will be impacted, and how future gadgets will be branded. But the move does provide several benefits for Fitbit, giving the smartwatch maker a significantly larger reach and vast resources for developing new products and services.
It also makes me hopeful that with Google's help, Fitbit will be able to address what has been one of the biggest drawbacks I've had with switching out my Apple Watch for one of its devices: software.
Fitbit lacks Apple's polish
The software on Fitbit's smartwatches like the Versa and Versa Light is easy to navigate and adequate enough for basic tasks, such as launching a workout or viewing texts and notifications. But it lacks the Apple Watch's polish and sophistication.
Apple has an inherent advantage in this space, being one of the world's biggest smartphone makers, with 900 million iPhones in pockets around the world as of the beginning of the year. And the company clearly modeled watchOS, the software that powers the Apple Watch, to look and feel similar to that of the iPhone.
Take notifications, for one example. The cards in the Apple Watch's notification tray, which are accessible by pulling down from the top of the screen, have a layered look that feels richer and more refined than Fitbit's plain-text notifications. It's flourishes like these — which are small, but certainly make a difference when taken together — that make the Apple Watch experience feel more premium than that of a Fitbit.
If Fitbit were to adopt Google's WearOS software in the future, it could potentially help Fitbit's watches do a better job at catching up to Apple in this regard.
Developer relations are key
But more importantly, being part of Google could be huge for advancing Fitbit's relationship with developers.
Fitbit's app gallery merely has hundreds of apps, many of which are simple utilities made by small companies. The exception, there, are a certain handful from major brands like Starbucks, Uber, and Spotify.
But the Apple Watch has nearly 20,000 watchOS apps available in the App Store, putting it leagues ahead of Fitbit. Now that Fitbit is becoming part of Google, proprietors of the massive Google Play app store for Android, there might be a possibility that this could change.
Fitbit could catch up
Apple maintains a comfortable lead ahead of Fitbit when it comes to market share: it accounted for 46.4% of smartwatch shipments in the second quarter of 2019, compared to Fitbit's 9.8% market share, according to Strategy Analytics.
But if Fitbit's new position within Google does help it improve on its software shortcomings, Fitbit could become an even more formidable competitor to Apple. Fitbit's gadgets already offer several advantages over the Apple Watch, even if Apple is outpacing Fitbit when it comes to market share.
For one, Fitbit's devices are noticeably cheaper than Apple's; its new Versa 2 costs about $200, while the Apple Watch Series 5 costs twice as much starting at $400.
Fitbit's smartwatches can track your sleep right out of the box, unlike the Apple Watch, which requires you to download a third-party app to do so. And among the biggest benefits that Fitbit offers is significantly longer battery life; I've gotten around four or five days out of my Versa, whereas I usually have to charge my Apple Watch nightly.
If Google does help Fitbit solve some of the areas in which the fitness company's products have lagged behind Apple's — most notably when it comes to software and apps — it could have a real shot at catching up to the Apple Watch.
And that could be worrisome for Apple, considering the acquisition is coming at a time when sales of the Apple Watch and other wearables like AirPods are more important than ever for the company.
Apple has turned to product lines like its wearables (read: Apple Watch) and services (read: iCloud, App Store, and the new Apple TV Plus) to offset declining iPhone sales — a strategy that's seemingly been working so far. The company's revenue for the fourth quarter of 2019 was the highest it has ever been for that period of the year, and Apple largely attributed that milestone to growth across its wearables and services businesses.
It's unclear exactly what this acquisition means for the future of Fitbit and Google's ambitions in wearables. But it certainly seems like Fitbit is poised to grow, which could eventually pose a threat to the dominance of the Apple Watch.