After two months of rumors that Fitbit was looking for a buyer and that Google was potentially interested, we now know this was true: Google announced its acquisition plan for Fitbit two weeks ago. And I suggested to current Fitbit device fans that it might not be a bad thing because the purchase is less about Google’s wearable challenges — Wear OS watches aren’t a hit — but more about Google adding personal health data to its treasure trove of information. Others agree.
Back in an August episode of the IoT Podcast, when the rumors were still swirling, I said it would make sense for Amazon to buy Fitbit. I think so, even more, this week with reports that the $129 Amazon Echo Bud wireless headphones have a hidden feature: Fitness tracking.
Both CNBC and The Verge have noticed a new Fitness section in the Amazon Alexa mobile app, although Amazon hasn’t announced this function, nor is it mentioned on the Amazon Echo Buds product page. And to be clear, even when it does become generally available, it won’t do much: So far the headphones can only track steps, thanks to the internal accelerometer, which CNBC predicted would be inside the Buds for step tracking.
However, it suggests to me that I was on the right track in August in that Amazon wants the personal health data currently gathered by devices from Apple, Garmin, Google and others, such as Fitbit. And if so, Amazon should have strongly pursued a Fitbit acquisition, instead of letting Google win the spoils.
So why would Amazon even want this personal data?
Because Amazon’s business model is built on personal data in its ecosystem: What you read, watch or listen to, what products you search for (even if you ultimately don’t by them), when you’re home and even where your car is if you use Amazon Key In-Car Delivery services. And I haven’t even touched upon the questions you pose or commands you provide to Alexa.
It’s all about data. And for Amazon, the biggest hole in its customer dataset is personal health information. A Fitbit acquisition would have quickly plugged that hole for Amazon and I can just imagine what it might have done with that data.
If an Amazon wearable device detects stress through an increased heart or respiration rate when you’re inactive, for example, Alexa could suggest some relaxing music or ask if you’re okay. Presumably, it could contact a pre-configured family member through an Echo voice call or perhaps even call emergency services in a situation that required it.
What if an Amazon fitness tracker saw that my running sneakers had crossed 400 miles of usage and therefore were likely ready to be replaced. Shoe purchase suggestions based on my height, weight and perceived fitness level could magically surface in the Amazon app. Heck, maybe my running habit is so predictable that my preferred kicks become a “Subscribe and save” discounted purchase every few months.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, since it didn’t purchase Fitbit, Amazon will have builds fitness tracking into its own wearables to get that data. And that’s a shame because I suspect more people trust Amazon with their data than they trust Google.