Fitbit Gets Struck by Silicon Valley’s Hardware Hex


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There’s a cliché in Silicon Valley that hardware is hard. The great companies of the technology industry emphasized software. That was true even for noted gear makers like Cisco, which outlasted (or bought) a bevy of competitors. Apple, of course, was the exception. Its unique computers (with plenty of software) made it a player long after its initial peak. Later, it became the unexpected king of mobile phones, an industry dominated by a small group of decades-old, non-Silicon Valley players.

I first wrote about Fitbit in 2015, before it went public, in an article about another failing Silicon Valley hardware maker, Jawbone. (It actually did fail shortly after I wrote about it.) “We actually knew nothing about hardware,” Fitbit CEO James Park told me then, about his and his co-founder’s starting point. They learned, they operated efficiently, and they succeeded gloriously, reaching 68% share of the North American fitness tracker market in 2014.

Google agreed last week to buy Fitbit for about $2 billion, a rounding-error outlay for the tech behemoth that makes it difficult to predict Fitbit’s future. Regulatory approval isn’t certain. Neither is Google’s commitment to the hardware brands it buys. (Motorola, Nest, and HTC have met varying fates.) Apple’s watch, meanwhile, derided for its lack of innovation when it debuted, has become a leader, neatly fitting into Apple’s network of gadgets and services. It’s worth noting, as I have before, the one direct competitor to Apple and Fitbit that has soared: Garmin, which reported solid earnings last week. The company is worth $17 billion, and is located about as existentially far from Silicon Valley as possible, in suburban Kansas City.

***

The sports agent Barry Frank died last week. I interviewed him once, for an article about DirecTV, when News Corp. controlled it. He was explaining the importance of sports programming to me, and he argued that a key ingredient was servicing the needs of committed gamblers. He introduced me to the concept of a vigorish, or vig for short. Not much of a gambler myself, I’d never heard the word. Any time someone used it after that, I associated the word with him.

***

I’m in a mode of finishing long-delayed projects. This
weekend I finally completed listening to Michelle Obama’s outstanding book, Becoming,
which I’d been playing off and on since last winter. She reads the book, so
listening to it makes you feel like you are hanging out with this exceedingly
normal person who has led an extraordinary life. It’s also a reminder of a time
when the President of the United States behaved with dignity, decency, and
grace. (Any Fortune 500 CEO who made
up details of a successful transaction
to make it sound better would be
roundly condemned.)

I’m on the hunt for my next audio book. Recommendations
welcome.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: [email protected]

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.





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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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