It’s been three years since Google announced it was buying Fitbit, and approaching two years since the deal closed – but finally, the acquisition has borne fruit.
The release of the Pixel Watch has also been a long time in coming, but the real story behind the launch of Google’s first smartwatch is how central Fitbit is to the proposition.
The Pixel Watch is a Fitbit in its own right. The Pixel Watch will sync with the Fitbit app, just like one of the company’s native devices. It accesses the full repertoire of Fitbit wellness metrics, and it comes with a Fitbit Premium sub. It’s the perfect marriage of a Wear OS watch and Fitbit tracker.
It proves that Google was telling the truth (up to a point) about its Fitbit acquisition being about “devices not data,” and that its aim was to give its first smartwatch a real shot in the arm.
Fitbit founder James Park on stage at the Made By Google event
Google has set the Fitbit team loose on the Pixel Watch, and its launch has revealed that many of those are moving from Fitbit to Google roles. This means that we can expect Fitbit and Google to blur further and that the Pixel Watch may only just the be beginning of a new era of Fitbit devices.
We saw James Park on stage at the 'Made by Google' event talking about the Pixel Watch – and there’s a clear sign that Google is using that experience.
And Leor Stern, who headed up Fitbit OS, has announced they are taking more central roles in Google after the integration of Fitbit into Wear OS for the Pixel Watch.
"I have been working on the Google Pixel Watch for a very long time, both as a member of the Wear OS team and as part of the Fitbit team. Today's launch is a joyous milestone and a good time to share that I am starting a new adventure at Google - more detail to follow," he said on LinkedIn.
Building on Fitbit's foundations
But Google hasn’t just absorbed Fitbit’s features, it’s built on them, too. James Park pointed out that the Pixel Watch was increasing sampling rates for better heart rate accuracy, but it’s the results of Google’s AI and machine learning improvements that really caught our eye.
There was a segment of the keynote dedicated to how Google had reduced signal noise, the kryptonite of wrist-mounted wearables, to produce more accurate readings.
Google said it had looked at millions of hours of heart rate data, from studies and real-world usage (so, not quite ‘devices not data’), to identify patterns of signal noise that can be removed by the improved algorithms.
It’s another product of the Fitbit/Google relationship that could have repercussions for the wearables industry.
But there is just one sobering note for Google.
The Pixel Watch does everything the Fitbit Versa 4 (above) can in terms of fitness tracking. But the Versa 4 clocks up six days of battery life, versus one day on the Pixel Watch – and it costs $100 less.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which features such as Google Play apps and service resonate with people, at the expense of battery life, when the dust settles on the launch.