This Week In Mobile
Fitbit is Dead. Long Live Fitbit.
Last week we talked about the possible sale of Fitbit to Google’s parent company Alphabet. Well, it has now been confirmed that the struggling wearable company will be purchased for an eye-watering $2.1 billion.
There are certainly plenty of people who think Google is actually looking to throw its giant hat into the wearables ring. Just this past January, Google quietly purchased Fossil’s secret smartwatch research and a few of the people responsible for creating it.
At the time, Stacey Burr, President of Product Management for Google’s WearOS, said the technology “could be brought out in a more expansive way if Google had [it], and was not only able to continue to use it with Fossil but bring it to other partners in the ecosystem.” She continued that it would be brought to market in the form of a product and “it will expand across our full breadth of brands over time,” before expanding “across the industry over time to benefit all.”
So that’s high-tech executive cryptic, but it certainly sounds like they’re planning to take on Goliath. Maybe.
On the other hand, we (and plenty of other tech pundits) surmised Google would be looking for the technology and the data and not necessarily the wearables. Fossil tech aside, that may be how it ends up, even if it’s not intentional.
Google doesn’t have the best history with its acquisitions. And the products they buy, even if they seem like absolute winners, are usually doomed from the word “sold.”
Consider Motorola Mobility, Waze, Nest, and HTC. The future seemed bright for those brands, too, but in every case they’ve either ceased to exist or have been subsumed into the larger body until they are utterly without identity. And market share.
If you look at why FItbit itself has struggled, look no further (again), than AppleWatch. In the early days, AppleWatch was a high-end product, but with the release of lower-priced models, “budget” wearables like Fitbit got squeezed out. So Google, with an already not great track record of acquisition, is picking up an already dying brand.
Meanwhile, even though the very first thing Fitbit did was try to reassure current users their data would remain private, many of those users are side-eyeing that. Hard.
“Consumer trust is paramount to Fitbit. Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of Fitbit’s DNA since day one, and this will not change,” the company said in a statement.
We believe them.
“Google also remains committed to Wear OS and our ecosystem partners, and we plan to work closely with Fitbit to combine the best of our respective smartwatch and fitness tracker platforms. Looking ahead, we’re inspired by the opportunity to team with Fitbit to help more people with wearables.”
We’re just not so sure we believe Google.
I Sold My Soul to the Company Store
If you know anything about California housing prices, you know they’re high. What an insufficient word, “high.” According to Trulia, the median price of a house in San Francisco has risen from $420,000 in January 2000 to $1.38 million in January of 2019. That’s a 329% increase. Anecdotally, the Alamo Square apartment our Content Director rented in 2009 for $1,700 is now $6,500. Yikes.
Statewide, home prices are double the national average.
And there’s no mystery as to why the Golden State has become the state where you literally have to be made of gold to comfortably live there. It’s down to tech companies. The tech boom (the second one, that is) meant lots of disposable income, lots of new employees with big, bouncy salaries, and lots of landlords making money hand over fist.
Of course to become a landlord you have to be pretty damn rich to begin with, so really it has been a struggle for almost everyone, and what began as a (second) golden era of tech money has become a nightmare.
Tech companies are starting to step up to help, and doing so to the tune of billions.
This week, Apple committed $2.5 billion to the cause, which will be used to build affordable housing and offer mortgage assistance. Facebook has earmarked $1 billion for mixed-income housing units, housing for the homeless, and housing for “essential workers.” Google will repurpose $750 million of their land to build affordable housing, and use another $250 million to create an investment fund to incentivize developers to build affordable housing (which sounds like such a straight up money-making venture it’s difficult to even include it here).
So. Will these measures help? Sure. Maybe! A little. But there are bigger issues than just the money to build. Google’s (and everyone else’s) land lies in an area famous for its strict zoning requirements, and the challenges of getting “affordable housing” (read: dense development) built in Silicon Valley cannot be overstated.
In Cupertino, Apple’s hometown, the Vallco Shopping Mall sits unused and ripe for development. After the city approved a plan to build 2,400 apartments on the site, a community group sued, and now the plan is stuck, indefinitely, in the courts.
Apple, Facebook, and Google may genuinely want their billions to help, but it’s a simple fact that many of the well-heeled homeowners of Sand Hill do not. And that’s an uphill battle no one quite has clear plans for winning yet.
San Jose mayor Sam Licardo said: "There’s no question that our local communities need to do more, and particularly the small suburban towns that have been quite welcoming to multibillion-dollar tech campus but are willing to build walls when it comes to more housing development.”