It seems Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is exploring acquiring wearable maker Fitbit. The acquisition though, may not mean much for India, despite the fact that Fitbit has been present here for a while.
According to the International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Device Tracker report from September 2019, the overall wearables market in India has grown by 123.6 percent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2019.
However, the credit for that doesn’t go to smartwatches and fitness bands. Instead, Indians are buying more earworn wearables, according to IDC. That includes wireless headphones that support voice assistants and can also track various aspects of your health.
Wristbands and smartwatches accounted for 34.9 percent and 6.9 percent of the overall wearable market in India, respectively. The IDC report also stated that 1.07 million and 0.21 million units of each were shipped, respectively.
The numbers in India account for a small percentage of the overall market. The IDC report pegs the overall global shipments of wrist-worn wearables at 34.2 million units, growing 28.8 percent year-on-year in Q2, 2019. So, Google’s decision to buy Fitbit does make sense in the global scheme of things. Fitbit came in fourth in terms of market share in that quarter, behind Xiaomi, Apple, Huawei and Samsung.
However, much like the Fitbit acquisition itself the jury’s out on what Google’s acquisition means for the overall wearables market. For one, the wearable maker has struggled to maintain a hold on the wearables market with Apple chipping away on the premium segment with its Apple Watch devices, while Chinese Xiaomi dominates the budget market with the Mi Band fitness bands.
On the other hand, Fitbit is indeed a pioneer when it comes to wrist-worn wearables being one of the earliest to enter the market. So, Google’s acquisition will likely be about acquiring intellectual properties the company owns.
In fact, buying Fitbit doesn’t just mean buying one wearable company. The company today is an assimilation of the acquisitions it has made over time, which includes once important names in wearables, like Pebble, Vector and Fitcoin.
“Healthcare and fitness has been an important focus for all, Apple to Google. So Fitbit fits the puzzle," said Faisal Kawoosa, founder of techARC. Kawoosa also suggested another reason for why Google might be looking to buy Fitbit, which is to augment its Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.
The company already makes home devices under the Nest brand and has a healthy presence in that market, but though Google has its own wearable operating system (OS) in WearOS, it doesn’t have big market share there. After all, only one of the top three brands in the wearables space has used of WearOS on any of its devices. And having lost its Android license due to the US trade ban recently, it’s unlikely that Huawei will continue to do so in the future.
In fact, the biggest driver of Android during its early days — Samsung — chose to use Tizen (its own custom operating system) as the OS for its wearable devices as well.
However, the important question is whether buying Fitbit will help Google improve adoption for WearOS. While the company indeed has a dedicated following of fitness enthusiasts, the problem with Android smartwatches may be the same as one Android faced when it was picking up — that of fragmentation.
While hardware and software makers have been in better sync lately when it comes to phones, the same hasn’t happened on wearables yet. Companies still make watches with low memory, slow processors and so on. Whereas companies like Apple and Samsung seem to have decided on how their interfaces, software etc. will progress, those who make devices using WearOS are still experimenting.