Google is acquiring Fitbit, a leading wearables brand, for $2.1 billion. Google says the motivation is to “help more people with wearables,” expand its vision of “ambient computing,” and, of course, grab a share of the fast-growing $8-billion digital health market.
But there’s more to it.
Just to mention a couple of relevant product families, the acquisition follows a recent $40-million Fossil acquisition. And there’s already Google Nest, which includes “smart speakers, smart displays, streaming devices, thermostats, smoke detectors, and security systems including smart doorbells, cameras, and smart locks.”
As many analysts have pointed out, the Fitbit acquisition will help Google to further its vision of “ambient computing.” By ambient computing, Google means an omnipresent AI assistant that will monitor your activities throughout the day (and night) via a multitude of apps, services, and devices. These services include Fossil and Google Nest as mentioned above, plus the good old Google search – always there in the background, knowing who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and how you are feeling. The AI assistant will help with tasks, requests, reminders, directions, etc. The goal is to make it “as reliable and essential as running water.”
And of course, to serve you more ads: highly personalized, geolocation- and context-sensitive. And perhaps attuned to how well you slept last night. Or how you feel right now, based on your emotional state. While this latter conjecture is just that, Fitbit has a built-in heart rate monitor, and heart rate is indicative of emotions. Meanwhile, emotion recognition is a $25-billion market. For the most part, emotion recognition is visual: decoding facial expressions, body language, etc. But why not also use a person’s heart rate, gait, and more?
After all, the goal is “to provide you with useful information to help you find exactly what you're looking for. Sometimes that information comes in the form of an ad, which we’ll show along with the search results.”
Oh wait, did you say more ads? But Google claims “We will never sell personal information to anyone.” And it won’t, at least not directly. They do it via Google Adwords. So more data from home telemetry and wearable devices means more data and richer (“bigger”) data for marketers and advertisers to bid on. And more revenue for Google.
In theory, this could result in more relevant ads for consumers, but I suspect that is not going to happen. Not until someone disrupts the current verbatim and rear-view advertising paradigm with something more intelligent. And not until advertisers stop showing me what I’ve already done, seen, read, bought, or didn’t buy and instead surprise and delight me by showing something new, unexpected, interesting, and yes, relevant.
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