Google Fitbit Acquisition: Huge Developer Impact?

Google has acquired Fitbit for roughly $2.1 billion. That could change the wearables game in significant ways—and impact all developers and other technologists who are interested in smartwatches as a product category.

Fitbit claims it has 28 million active users around the world. If that number is even remotely accurate, it gives Google a substantial user base from which to re-launch its wearables ambitions. However, Google also has a long history of splashy acquisitions (such as Motorola and Nest) that haven’t exactly panned out. Fitbit fans on Reddit have already expressed worries that Google will end up wrecking things.

Right now, Apple is solidifying its lead in smartwatches. Google’s own wearable platform, Wear OS, hasn’t managed to make much headway against Apple Watch. By acquiring Fitbit, Google could integrate health and fitness functionality into its platform that would make it a more robust competitor. 

That’s the hope, at least. “This agreement underscores our belief in how important wearable tech has become, and it’s also an exciting opportunity for Wear OS,” Sameer Samat, Google vice president who manages Wear OS, wrote in a note about the acquisition on Google’s blog. “We’re looking forward to collaborating with Fitbit to bring the best of our smartwatch platforms and health applications together, and enabling our partners to build the next generation of wearables. 

But competing against Apple isn’t just about layering in some health and fitness apps and calling it a day. Apple is intent on creating an app ecosystem around WatchOS, the operating system that powers the Apple Watch, and any competitor must do the same. It’s hard to tell how Google plans on accomplishing that goal, however. Will future generations of Fitbit devices support Wear OS apps? Will Google allow Fitbit to operate as an independent unit, while using its health and fitness technology in a future line of Google-branded smartwatches? Are developers interested in wearables really all that curious about building health and fitness apps?

For developers, there are some scenarios in which Google uses Fitbit to create a robust competitor to Apple Watch, resulting in a viable second ecosystem for smartwatch apps. If smartwatches and wearables become as big a market as some analysts predict, that could mean we have a repeat of what happened with smartphones: a market duopoly dominated by Google and Apple. That’s bad for any company that wants to create a viable smartwatch OS to compete, but potentially good for third-party developers from a revenue perspective.   

But there’s also the totally reasonable fear that Google will somehow mess this up, just as they’ve messed up acquisitions in the past. In 2020 and beyond, developers interested in Wear OS might get some nifty health-related tools to use, thanks to Fitbit’s years of research and development—but there’s also the possibility of relatively little change to either the Fitbit or Wear OS ecosystems. We shall wait and see.

In the meantime, for those developers interested in Wear OS, check out Google’s extensive documentation and release notes. 

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