Gadgets for humans

Is Fitbit gearing up to take on the Apple Watch?

Fitbit broke a lot of hearts when it acquired smartwatch firm Pebble’s team and software platform, effectively shutting down the once-budding indie brand as we knew it. As it turns out, the fitness wearable maker has larger plans for its future.

It’s now acquired Vector, a Romanian smartwatch company that launched two luxury devices with a proprietary OS, e-ink screen and purported 30-day battery life, with variants starting at $315 and going up to $580. The company was led by former execs from watch giants Citizen, Bulova and Timex.

Credit: Vector

But what does Fitbit want with all this talent? The company hasn’t yet revealed what it intends to do with its new buys. Until now, it’s been focused exclusively on fitness gear.

It’s possible that Fitbit might want to get into the smartwatch business now that it has people who’ve been there and done that. If that’s the case, it could certainly be poised to go up against Apple, whose share of the market has been in steady decline over the last year, dropping from roughly 70 percent in Q3 2015 to just over 40 percent in Q3 2016.

While Pebble didn’t specify what it’d be doing for its new owner when it departed last December, Vector noted in a blog post that it will “start building other new and amazing products, features and experiences, incorporating our unique technology and knowhow with Fitbit’s experience and global community.”

Fitbit could benefit from having the expertise necessary to build devices and a platform that works with Android and iOS, thereby expanding its playing field to many more consumers who aren’t tied to Apple’s ecosystem.

Of course, there’s also a chance that Fitbit will simply put both of its newly acquired teams to work on improving and expanding its lineup of fitness gear. That might make sense, as the smartwatch industry isn’t exactly booming right now, with shipments having dropped by 51 percent year-on-year by the end of Q3 2016.

We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out in the coming months, as the Apple Watch 2, unveiled last September, is still a fairly recent release and Google’s major update for its smartwatch platform is still in the works.

The company is expected to launch Android Wear 2.0 and a couple of flagship devices sometime in the first quarter of this year. It’ll bring new features like handwriting support and a full QWERTY keyboard, the ability for watchfaces to display info from other apps and one-touch smart replies based on the context of your incoming messages. Devices running this OS will also get a dedicated Google Play app store as well as Google’s AI-powered Assistant.

We’ve contacted Fitbit to learn more and will update this post if there’s a response.

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Published January 11, 2017 — 06:10 UTC