Earlier this week, news broke that Google reportedly made an offer to acquire Fitbit, the company that makes popular activity trackers for mainstream consumers. I read dozens of reactions from Fitbit owners on social media and almost all of them can universally be summed up with one word: “Noooo!”
Fitbit owners generally love their Fitbits. So much so that if their older Fitbit breaks, or if an updated model seems more appealing, they get another Fitbit. I’ve owned a few myself, as have members of my family. For basic health tracking of activities and attributes such as steps, heart rate, general exercise, weight, and sleep, you really can’t go wrong with a Fitbit on any budget: Fitbits range from $70 to $230 based on features and functions.
Of course, Google has its own app, called Google Fit, to track many of the same things. By comparison, though, Fitbit runs circles around Google Fit in my experience. Every year or so, I install Google Fit only to be disappointed yet again by missing data, synchronization problems and just an overall poor experience as compared to that of Fitbit.
Google also has devices for activity tracking such as Wear OS watches and, to a certain extent, Android phones themselves, which can track basic step counts, move minutes and calculated “heart points” through Google Fit. I try a Wear OS watch with the same regularity as I try Google Fit and end up frustrated within a week.
So I can see why Google may want to buy Fitbit; such a purchase could help with both the Google Fit service as well as Google’s smartwatch platform. And I can see why Fitbit users might be upset to hear about such a sale.
Here’s the thing though: I think this potential acquisition isn’t as bad as it might sound for the Fitbit faithful and I think it has a minimal, if any, impact on Google’s Wear OS. Instead, the better play would be a larger tie-in to Google Health with Fitbit devices still made and supported.
Sure, the Google Fit app could gain some better integrations with Fitbit devices and maybe the app becomes Google Fitbit. But I don’t see Fitbit devices going away. They’re just too good as compared to any of Google’s hardware options because they’re simpler to use, reliable and gather much more data. And that data would be invaluable to Google Health.
As it stands now, Fitbit doesn’t directly integrate with Google Fit although there are third party options that can help with that. However, the invite-only Fitbit Plus service can send its data to Google Fit with one caveat, as noted by a Fitbit Plus support page:
“Google Fit is intended to be used as a fitness tracker, not as a medical device. Therefore, Google Fit does not store medical measurements, such as blood pressure and blood sugar, and is unable to send medical measurements to Fitbit Plus.”
A chart on different support page makes that clear and you can see that Apple’s devices actually do get far more health data that works with Fitbit Plus.
So from a Google Health perspective, buying Fitbit for the improved user experience and health data, combined with an upgraded Google Fit app could be a wealth of information for Google that it currently can’t get today.
Indeed, if Google really wants to make Fitbit fans happy, it could continue the development of the traditional Fitbit devices and even subsidize them as Amazon does for its Kindle devices. Think of it as saving $25 or so on a Kindle and dealing with lock screen ads, but in the Fitbit world, you get a reduced device price by consenting that all of your data can be anonymously contributed to Google Health.
Fitbit users still get their great devices, Google gets up to par with Apple for gathering health data and Google Health has a richer dataset to continue its work as well. I’d say that’s a win all-around. And if Google’s wearOS watches improve, as a result, I’d take that too as icing on the cake.