One of the biggest news in recent weeks is Google's acquisition of Fitbit, which makes popular training tracking hardware like Fitbit The Versa series of smart watches. While this latest Google hardware acquisition is an important step for the company when it comes to creating their own laptops, it's hard not to be pessimistic about Fitbit's future.
You understand that Google's track record when it comes to acquiring hardware companies is not the best. Most of the companies purchased by Google either fail or simply integrate with other Google brands. The list of Google hardware acquisitions that are the test of time is quite small.
We obviously have no idea whether Fitbit will thrive or fail under Google, but we can get an idea of its chances by looking at Google's history. Below you will find a list of the most prominent Google hardware acquisitions and what is happening with these companies today.
Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility 2011 is probably one of the most well-known buyers in the company's history. The deal cost Google $ 12.5 billion, making it still by far the largest Google hardware acquisition ever.
Google's intention with the purchase was versatile. The company wanted control over the thousands of mobile-related patents that Motorola had at that time, with the intention of using these patents to defend against many Android-related lawsuits from competitors (especially Apple). Google also wanted to enter the hardware space for smartphones by introducing high-quality access-level devices specifically catered to emerging markets.
But the plan did not work as Google had hoped. In 2014, Google revealed that it would sell Motorola Mobility to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo. This sale earned Google just $ 2.91 billion, a small percentage of what it originally paid. However, Google had to retain a majority of Motorola's patents.
Purchasing the entire Motorola smartphone business was not the last time Google tried to buy into the hardware manufacturing industry. In 2017, Google announced that it had purchased a large portion of HTC's design and research talent, as well as non-exclusive rights to some of HTC's intellectual property rights. The deal cost Google $ 1.1 billion.
Google and HTC worked very closely to develop the first Google Pixel smartphone, which landed in 2016. Although Pixel was designed by Google and marketed as a "Made by Google" product, HTC had a massive hand in device creation.
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Google's HTC purchase a year later was a strategic move to develop future Pixel smartphones without the need to subcontract another company. Google Pixel 3 – and all other Pixel smartphones since – is at least partially developed by the HTC team that Google bought.
At the same time, HTC is flocking itself, probably because no small part loses about half of its most talented designers and researchers in that sale.
Two former Apple engineers started Nest Labs in 2010. In 2011, the first Nest-branded device came out: the Nest Learning Thermostat. It was years before it released its second product, which was a smart home smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
In 2014, Google acquired Nest in a $ 3.2 billion cash deal that closed within 24 hours. At that time, Google promised that Nest would continue to operate as its own brand, as a separate entity from Google. However, this installation proved difficult with Nest's corporate culture, which was criticized as very demanding and different management cakes that rocked the boat.
In 2018, Google rolled back on its promise to keep Nest a separate entity and announced that it would begin merging Bo into Google. This resulted in more shaking of the management, including Nest's CEO and Head of Product Manager. Google even switched things up again by announcing it would adopt the Google Nest brand for all of Google's smart home products – including ones that Nest had nothing to do with – even going so far as to retroactively rename its existing Google Home Hub like Google Nest Hub.
After Google acquired Nest, it acquired Dropcam very shortly thereafter. This Google hardware purchase allowed Nest to create one of its star products: Nest Cam.
At the time of the sale – which only cost Google $ 555 million – Dropcam had only two products: Dropcam and Dropcam Pro. Nest took these designs and tweaked them a bit to launch the first Nest Cam, which was marketed as a successor to Dropcam Pro. Google and Nest then began migrating Dropcam users to the "new" Nest app, which was simply a custom version of Dropcam's original app.
After doing these moves, Google then dissolved the Dropcam brand. Greg Duffy, co-founder of Dropcam, openly regrets selling the company to Google.
Believe it or not, Fitbit is not the first company Google bought with a focus on portable devices. At the end of 2016, Google bought Cronologics for an undisclosed amount. Cronologics developed just one product prior to Google's hardware acquisition: CoWatch, as seen in the image above.
CoWatch included integration with Amazon Alexa, which allowed the user to issue voice commands directly to their smartwatch. The unit's retail price was $ 279 at launch.
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Although Cronologics had a big hand in developing CoWatch, it was not why Google bought companies. Instead, Google wanted the team to work with Android Wear, the Android-based portable operating system that would eventually become the Wear OS. At the time of Google's purchase, the Cronologics team was working on its own portable operating system based on an open source-based version of Android.
After the purchase, Google Cronologics dissolved.
This is probably one of the more interesting Google hardware purchases in the company's history. Titan Aerospace began in 2011 with the intention of developing unmanned aircraft that could theoretically fly with solar energy alone for up to five years.
Originally, Facebook expressed an interest in purchasing the company with the specific intention of using the aircraft to deliver high-speed internet to locations around the world where it would be logistically difficult. However, Google jumped on the idea instead and bought the company in 2014.
Google put Titan Aerospace under the experimental Google X division and renamed it Project Titan. Google hoped that Project Titan could deliver the aircraft it promised and, just like Facebook intended, use that aircraft to distribute wireless internet to underserved areas.
Unfortunately, Google abandoned the 2017 project and solved what remained of Titan Aerospace. Instead, Google shifted its focus to Loon, a very similar idea that uses balloons instead of winged aircraft.
Various Robot Companies
Although we have not yet seen any Made by Google robots, Google has been very involved in robot development. In 2013, Google bought no less than three prominent robotics companies: Meka Robotics, Redwood Robotics and Boston Dynamics.
Meka Robotics focused primarily on human-robot interactions, creating robotic body parts and complete humanoid machines. Redwood Robotics was a joint venture with Meka and other companies with the intention of developing robotic arms for human use. Both companies were listed on the Google X platform and not much has been heard about them since.
Boston Dynamics is probably the most famous robot company found as the creator of the BigDog robot. As with Meka and Redwood, Google put Boston Dynamics into the Google X program. However, in 2017, Google sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank – which owns the wireless network provider Sprint – for an undetermined amount.
Now we come to the latest Google hardware acquisition: Fitbit. Since the deal is only a few days old at this time, we do not have much clues as to where the company is headed.
Google is unlikely to repeat what it did to Cronologics and drive the Fitbit development teams to work only on the Wear OS. Google is also unlikely to repeat the mistake it made with Motorola Mobility and eventually resell the company in a few short years.
Related: The Best Fitbit Tracks and Smartwatches
Instead, we expect Google to combine what it did with the HTC team and what it did with Nest Labs. Google is likely to release new smart wearables under the Fitbit name (or Fitbit by Google, or something along those lines) and eventually release a Google-branded wearable created by the Fitbit team. These wearables may also contain aspects of fossil patents that Google purchased earlier this year.
If successful, Fitbit will eventually disband and its employees will instead work on wearables with the Google brand exclusively.
We are relatively safe but for one thing: from Google's history, the Fitbit brand will not last long.