​Mergers and acquisitions: The biggest wearable tech deals of 2014

We round up the boardroom deals that have dominated wearables this year
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It's been a busy year for wearables. We've seen smartwatches from some of the biggest names in the industry, great strides in virtual reality, hundreds of fitness trackers and steady progress from smartglasses.

Behind the scenes, there's been a significant shift in the landscape too - it's been a year of deals, mergers and acquisitions that's changed the face of the industry.

Wearable technology is attracting significant interest from venture capital - CB Insights reported in July that the industry gathered four times the investment in 2013 than it did in 2011, resulting in annual growth of between 82 and 124% over the past few years.

But the biggest sums have piled up when wearables companies have been acquired by larger firms. Let's take a look at the most important deals of the year.

Facebook & Oculus VR


The largest acquisition of the year by far in the wearables space was the $2 billion purchase of Oculus VR by Facebook. Oculus makes the Oculus Rift - a virtual reality headset that was a big hit on Kickstarter in 2012 and has gone from strength to strength since.

Facebook announced the surprise purchase of the company in a 25 March blog post, with Mark Zuckerberg writing: "Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate."

Essential reading: Oculus Rift vs Project Morpeus

What's in it for Oculus? The company's chief technology officer, John Carmack, wrote on Twitter a few days later that the Facebook deal would "avoid several embarrassing scaling crises for virtual reality". It seems that access to Facebook's vast resources was just too good an opportunity for the young VR company to resist.

Meanwhile, Oculus VR has recently been making some smaller acquisitions itself. In mid-December, the company announced it had acquired two firms - Nimble VR, which specialises in computer vision and low-latency hand tracking, and 13th Lab, which has been working on real-time 3D reconstructions of real-world environments. Both should boost the company's competencies, and shed some light on what its first product might look like.

Intel & Basis Science


A few weeks before Facebook completed its Oculus deal in March, Intel announced it would be picking up a company called Basis Science, which specialises in wearable technologies for health and wellness. Basis makes wristwatch health trackers and has about seven percent of the market.

The terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but TechCrunch claims that Intel paid between $100 and $150 million for the firm, perhaps outbidding Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft.

The move is likely an attempt to remedy Intel's relatively small stature in the wearables market. Most sensors in fitness trackers and other devices are made by the company's rivals - Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and STMiroelectronics. Rather than this piecemeal approach, Intel's goal seems to be to provide all-in-one packages and reference devices for other companies who want to get into wearables - it showcased several such projects at CES in January.

Facebook & Moves


The other big Facebook acquisition this year was an app called Moves, picked up with the purchase of Helsinki-based developer ProtoGeo Oy. Moves lets users keep a simple, clean activity diary on iPhone and Android, which connects to more than 40 other apps. The deal was announced in April, but no price was named.

Until recently, Facebook's stable of apps weren't too suited to a smartwatch platform - but the company has been investing heavily over the year in staking a claim on your wrist. The Moves deal is no doubt a part of that strategy, making sure that Facebook remains part of your daily life if wearables begin to overtake smartphones and tablets in popularity.

Google & Nest


Google made its mark on the wearables market this year with the release of Android Wear, but it also shifted its focused to connected homes with the $3.2 billion purchase of Nest. Nest hit the big time in 2011 with a Wi-Fi enabled 'learning thermostat' that optimises the heating and cooling of your home to conserve energy, but has since also moved into the smoke detector market.

Google previously had a 12% stake in the company, but acquired it in full in January. The search giant is likely hoping that Nest's products will become a part of its customers houses, grabbing a slice of the connected home market in much the same way that Facebook is doing on smartwatches.

Microsoft & Osterhout Design Group


In late 2013, Techcrunch claimed that Microsoft was flirting with Osterhout Design Group - a low-profile company that develops wearables for the military. That deal didn't go through, but Microsoft instead picked up a big chunk of its intellectual property for between $100 and $150 million.

Six already-issued and 75 in-progress patents for AR glasses were picked up in the deal, covering things like a "see-through near-eye display glasses including a partially reflective, partially transmitting optical element” and a “video display modification based on sensor input for a see-through near-to-eye display.”

Microsoft's ambitions in the wearables market are still undefined, but could involve its Xbox brand - bringing virtual and augmented reality devices to gamers. Alternatively, and less excitingly, it might just be a strategic purchase - holding on to the patents to get a cut of royalties if popular products infringe on them, just as it's done with Android.

Covidien & Zephyr


Finally, it's worth mentioning a couple of companies that you probably haven't heard of unless you work in the medical devices field. In May, healthcare products company Covidien, which is owned by massive medical giant Medtronic, picked up a firm named Zephyr Technologies which makes health-sensing wearables that are available both over-the-counter and on prescription.

Zephyr's been in the game since 2003 - a relatively long time for such a young field - and has products that monitor heart rate, breathing, ECG and posture for medical purposes, connected to companion software. It's not clear how much Covidien paid for Zephyr, but the company disclosed that it had spent $128 million on three acquisitions in the preceding six months. Its customers include NASA, and US military, so no doubt this is another landgrab for Covidien to quickly and cheaply gain wearables expertise.

How we test


Duncan Geere is a data and information designer based in Sweden.

His job is to communicate complex information to a wider audience.

He works for Information is Beautiful, the Gates Foundation, and Project Drawdown.

Duncan was also part of the Wired UK team at launch.

He also works part-time for the climate charity Possible, and in his spare time is an artist and musician.

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