Fitbit buy is Google’s latest step into gadgetry

Updated 03 November 2019

Fitbit buy is Google’s latest step into gadgetry

  • Health and fitness wearables like the ones that made Fitbit famous are just one more avenue for Google to forge a presence in people’s lives
  • Google’s last big acquisition-fueled push into a hot hardware space involved its takeover of smart-thermostat maker Nest

NEW YORK: Google’s acquisition of wearable pioneer Fitbit may be a bold plunge into health and fitness technology. But it is also just the latest step in the internet giant’s often-halting effort to become a force in consumer hardware.

Once a pure software company known for its search engine, apps like Gmail and its Android software for smartphones, Google has for the last several years been building out its own suite of hardware products. These include its niche Pixel smartphones and a variety of smart gadgets from speakers to thermostats to Wi-Fi routers, all recently rebranded as “Nest” products.

Last month, the company announced a slate of new products including a Pixel phone, a Nest speaker and wireless earbuds. But its gadget sales are still minuscule compared to rivals Apple and Samsung.

That does not necessarily matter much to Google, which sees hardware mostly as a way to get people hooked on its software and artificial-intelligence (AI) services. Health and fitness wearables like the ones that made Fitbit famous are just one more avenue for Google to forge a presence in people’s lives.

Google has previously tried and failed to build a business in health technology, and its Wear OS software offers fitness tracking and AI for smartwatches made by other companies. But it does not have its own branded fitness wearable. That seems about to change.

FASTFACT

$8 billion

Digital health is a fast-growing market, with one study tracking more than $8 billion in venture investment in 2018.

Although Fitbit has been struggling recently against amped-up competition from Apple and Samsung, it still has one of the most recognizable and trusted brand names in wearable health tech, said eMarketer analyst Victoria Petrock.

“I think this gives Google immediate credibility in the market,” she said.

In a blog post announcing the deal with Fitbit, Google hardware executive Rick Osterloh said the merger would give the company an opportunity to release its own wearable device.

Google is realizing that it needs to build products that are consistent and coherent, like Apple does because it makes both hardware and software, said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett. He said Microsoft is taking steps in this direction as well with the Surface.

“The Android model has been successful to a point, but it has also created a fragmented user experience,” Gillett said.

Google’s last big acquisition-fueled push into a hot hardware space involved its takeover of smart-thermostat maker Nest.

Although Nest functioned for years as a largely autonomous unit, last year it folded back into Google.

It is possible we might soon see “Fitbit by Google” wearables, Petrock said.

But the push for Google, and increasingly other tech companies, is about the services they can sell along with the hardware.

Digital health is a fast-growing market, with one study tracking more than $8 billion in venture investment in 2018. The market could bust open once a federal Department of Health and Human Services initiative to give patients better control over their electronic health data becomes a reality.

The Fitbit deal, which is expected to close next year, will also give Google another big chunk of personal health and location data. Google said it will not sell ads using health and wellness data.


Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

Updated 01 June 2020

Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

LONDON: Arab News has published the recording of an interview with a Nissan lawyer after he denied saying that a bailout of Lebanon by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was linked to the extradition of fugitive tycoon Carlos Ghosn.

The former Nissan chairman fled to Beirut in December from Japan, where he faced charges of financial wrongdoing.

In a story published in Arab News Japan on Saturday, Sakher El Hachem, Nissan’s legal representative in Lebanon, said the multibillion-dollar IMF bailout was contingent on Ghosn being handed back to Japan. 

The lawyer said IMF support for Lebanon required Japan’s agreement. Lebanese officials had told him: “Japan will assist Lebanon if Ghosn gets extradited,” the lawyer said

“For Japan to agree on that they want the Lebanese authorities to extradite Ghosn, otherwise they won’t provide Lebanon with financial assistance. Japan is one of the IMF’s major contributors … if Japan vetoes Lebanon then the IMF won’t give Lebanon money, except after deporting Ghosn.”

On Sunday, El Hachem denied making the comments. “The only thing I told the newspaper was that there should have been a court hearing on April 30 in Lebanon, but it was postponed because of the pandemic,” he said. In response, Arab News published the recording of the interview, in which he can be clearly heard making the statements attributed to him. 

Japan issued an arrest warrant after Ghosn, 66, escaped house arrest and fled the country.

Now listen to the recording: