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​Fitbit buying Pebble isn't such a crazy idea

Commentary: Both companies could use each other to try to stay on a few more wrists.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One of wearable tech's biggest names may be buying one of its most inventive upstarts. And the rumored combination could well be a mutually beneficial move in an increasingly competitive category.

Fitbit, the No. 1 fitness tracker brand, is said to be buying Pebble. The news, first reported by The Information, is not confirmed. But Techcrunch is reporting that Fitbit's offer is in the $34 million to $40 million range, and that it's essentially a fire sale -- coming on the heels of far more lucrative offers from Intel and Citizen in 2015. (Representatives from both Pebble and Fitbit responded with no comment when asked about the reports.)

If the sale is happening, the Pebble brand is expected to essentially go away. It would be a sad end for one of our favorite hardware startups, which had continued to produce likable and affordable smartwatches with battery life that left even the new and improved Apple Watch in the dust.

But the end of the line for Pebble wouldn't be surprising, either: Despite its status as a Kickstarter darling, the brand isn't one of IDC's top five wearables manufacturers, and the company had laid off 25 percent of its workers earlier this year.

And while Fitbit may be in better shape, it's hardly making this acquisition from a position of strength: While the company's stock price was up this morning following the Pebble rumors, it's still down a whopping 71 percent over the past 12 months. Investors were unnerved by Fitbit's weak guidance for the holiday quarter earlier this month.

That's exactly why this combination isn't such a crazy idea. Here's what Pebble could offer Fitbit.


Fitbit Blaze: not the greatest watch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fitbit needs a better watch idea, fast

Fitbit's tried to make a watch with the Fitbit Blaze, but it barely handled any "smart" functions well, and was basically a Fitbit with a larger color screen. The GPS-enabled Surge watch is over a year old, and showing its age badly.

Pebble could be a last resort for Fitbit to find a decent solution, and advance its fitness trackers to something more fully featured than a basic band.

Pebbles have decent battery life and always-on displays

Pebble's watches can get to nearly ten days with an always-on display, and even the heart rate-enabled Pebble 2 handled four days on a charge, which is where current Fitbits aim for. Having that always-on screen would be a help for fitness tracking, and so would that battery life. Pebble's lower-power smartwatch design could be a good match for fitness tracking.


Pebbles can do this.

Sarah Tew/CNET

...and an answer for waterproofing

Pebbles have added automatic fitness tracking and even heart rate. But they're also swimproof, something most Fitbits can't even do except for the Flex 2. Maybe Pebble can help Fitbit get to better water resistance faster.

...and an enthusiastic community

Pebble's Kickstarter launches have been big successes, and there's still a dedicated developer community making apps, for what it's worth. But that community could vanish if Fitbit comes in and changes things. Maybe Pebble could keep selling watches with Fitbit tracking onboard alongside Fitbit trackers, much like Misfit has done alongside Fossil watches post-acquisition.

Could there be Music via Spotify?

Pebble's next planned product is an Android-powered clip-on called the Core that's a GPS-enabled fitness tracker and Spotify music player in one. There's a chance that Fitbit could be aiming to explore fitness and music in a future wearable, an area that would make a ton of sense. Perhaps Pebble has some ideas that could help.

Music on-wrist is still a relatively unexplored territory: Apple, Google and Samsung's watches still don't do a great job at this. Could Fitbit be trying to find its own way there faster, and would Pebble have an answer in the works?

Pebble+Fitbit could find a middle ground between traditional watches and high-end ones

Injecting Fitbit tracking into a traditional watch, like Misfit has done with Fossil watches, is only a good solution for basic step-counting, at best. Higher-end features like tracking runs and workouts, or even heart rate, just won't translate.

But, high-power smartwatches like the Samsung Gear S3, Apple Watch or Android Wear don't necessarily make sense, either. Those watches have heart rate tracking and even GPS, but their battery life isn't good enough for sleep tracking or multi-day continuous use with heavy fitness activity.

As a result, there really aren't any truly great fitness smartwatches right now. There's a chance Fitbit could try to find a solution with Pebble...or, fizzle out trying.