So, there’s been a buzz around the internet today regarding fitness tracking giant Fitbit possibly purchasing the Pebble smartwatch company. A recent piece from The Information is confirming the acquisition and claiming it to be fairly small sum of money, possibly as little as $40 million.
As a means of disclaimer, I’ve been pretty open about how much I love Pebble’s line of watches and feel they’ve carved an important middle ground niche in the wearables market. They do everything a smartwatch should do (provide easily read notifications and smart ways to respond) and still manage to be a highly functional wrist watch that doesn’t have to be charged every night.
But smartwatches aren’t exactly taking the market by storm like many had hoped and despite Pebble’s astonishing success on Kickstarter, the company is clearly struggling. They let go of a quarter of their staff recently and proclaimed they were changing focus to fitness. The Pebble Round—their upscale model aimed at the fashion conscious—didn’t do nearly as well as they had hoped, so it’s not surprising to see how they might want a cash infusion or buy out.
But is Fitbit really the right fit? Here are five musings on why the answer might be ‘No’.
Photo by Eric Thayer / Stringer / Getty Images.
The market for fitness tracking has been steadily declining for a while now. The once huge fad has started to lose its luster and while trackers still sell, owners aren’t all that interested in regularly upgrading a device they’ve already bought. This is a rampant problem (from the corporate perspective) through the entire mobile and tech industry. People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as companies want them to and it’s showing in declining sales across the board.
Now that these devices have been out for a while, researchers are finally getting big enough pools of data to analyze if these gadgets really do what they say. Or if they do anything at all. Turns out there’s healthy evidence that fitness trackers actually have the reverse effect, especially for those trying to lose weight. Fitbit, of course, disagrees and it’s still a little early to have a full picture.
The problem largely seems to be that people wanted a magic button for getting fit. Fitness trackers can’t make you exercise or eat right, and it’s pretty clear many users simply aren’t moving beyond simply tracking steps to making the necessary lifestyle changes. In fact, the results of one study indicated that people actually eat more when wearing a fitness tracker. While that doesn’t say anything about sales data, it certainly casts some shade on the fact that fitness trackers might have a short-lived upward trend.
Let’s face it, if you’re looking to spend between $100-$200 (or more) for a new watch, you’re probably not going to go with the company that might not be here next year. Pebble is on the cusp of releasing their Pebble Time 2, which looks great, and this is sure to put a black cloud over its debut. Even diehard Pebble fans will have a hard time staying onboard with this level of uncertainty about how much support they’ll be getting in the future.
This is more of a personal objection, but to me it’s a big part of the appeal of Pebble. To put it bluntly, Pebble has style and Fitbit really doesn’t. I mean, look at those Fitbits—even the newer ones. They’re pretty boring and uninspired. Even worse is their attempt at an actual smartwatch, such as the Fitbit Blaze. It’s a hideous square thing that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to wear.
On the other hand, the Pebble Round is a stylish and attractive piece of kit. The Pebble 2 and Time have a great active wear look to them and the Steel iterations are just really distinctive. Most of Fitbit’s wearable are distinctive for being so indistinct. While that makes them an accessible product for the masses, it doesn’t exactly fit with Pebble’s unique look. If I thought Fitbit were buying Pebble for its supreme design and style, I’d be less concerned—but unfortunately that’s not how these tech acquisitions usually go.
Based on the rumors, Fitbit isn’t interested in the actual Pebble line of watches, just in adopting some of the company’s innovations into their line-up. I really hope this proves completely false, but it’s a common tactic in the tech world. Remember when HP bought Palm and then forgot about it? Probably not, but they did. Or what about when Microsoft purchased Nokia and then laid off most of the team It happens all the time. If that happened to Pebble, we’d be losing the original smartwatch and a passionate startup company with big ideas about wearables.
From a pure product perspective, it would make far more sense to adapt Fitbit technology into Pebble’s products. Going that way, this could be a brilliant move that adds major marketing power to Pebble by having the far larger Fitbit backing them. With the financial backing of a company like Fitbit and the design smarts of Pebble, we could potentially add a major third player to the wearables market that could actually give Apple and Google a run for their money. That’s the only real hope Pebble users have in this acquisition, but the idea of Fitbit purchasing Pebble and keeping it going seems unlikely at this point.