Facebook’s bid to compete with Apple Watch and Fitbit is doomed

Fb in all probability isn’t the platform you’d count on to share your resting coronary heart fee or energy consumed with—however Mark Zuckerberg is wanting to change that.

The newest announcement from the large blue is its plan to launch a smartwatch subsequent summer season. There’s no shock there: Fb has proven a bent to comply with traits (tales, reels, and procuring). However this is each {hardware}—not a pure playground for Fb—and extremely private. Shoppers are already cautious of Fb’s free relationship with knowledge privateness, and many are leaping ship from the community because of this. Within the wake of Cambridge Analytica, the concept knowledge from strapping one thing spherical their wrists may find yourself within the arms of political operatives could not sit properly.

Cracking {hardware} is tougher than leaping on the most recent social media fad. The smartwatch market is properly established and not a simple one to break into, until it’s with a really revolutionary product. Additionally, the tech large has lots of structural issues to work by first, like its scrappy startup mentality and seemingly unshakable unhealthy press round privateness, earlier than it could efficiently broaden into {hardware}.

Not a robust begin

Fb is not a pure when it comes to {hardware}, even when the preliminary synergies are clear. Its first foray into telephones was not successful. The HTC First, launched in 2013, plummeted in price from $99 to 99 cents after solely a month on sale, earlier than vanishing from view that very same 12 months. The HTC First was reported to have solely bought 10,000 handsets at launch.

Portal, launched in 2018, appeared to be a extra pure extension of the social community’s messenger utility, permitting folks to join over video. If something, it was much more prescient, given the sprint to video conferencing precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. And but, the corporate nonetheless won’t release any figures relating to sales; plus, the Portal is additionally the topic of deep discounting—and not simply on Prime Day.

It’s additionally value noting that Portal is the one dwelling product to come out of the corporate’s personal {hardware} division, Constructing 8—a super-secret lab inside the Fb HQ that requires an escort to enter. The initiative’s chief, Regina Dugan, an skilled Silicon Valley engineer and govt with stints at Google and Motorola, among others, left in early 2018.

Critics of the company point to Facebook’s previous privacy failings as a purpose many customers is perhaps nervous about having a hyperconnected video platform lurking within the nook of their sitting room. With privateness considerations solely intensifying for the reason that launch of the Portal, it is attainable that the smartwatch may have an identical backlash from customers, since folks could fear about Fb promoting their well being and location information to advertisers.

That’s not to say Fb’s observe document with {hardware} is totally cursed. Oculus 2, the most recent model of its digital actuality headset, has outsold all earlier iterations mixed, and was in demand for Christmas 2020 when it quickly sold out. Nonetheless, it’s additionally value noting that Oculus was a “purchase, not construct” for Fb. The corporate has but to create a market-defining piece of {hardware} in-house.

Why the smartwatch market?

Maybe the most important problem going through Fb’s smartwatch efforts is the truth that the market is already mature. Its opponents—Apple with the Watch and Google with Fitbit—are already established and will show a tough nut to crack.

Apple Watch’s dependency on the cellphone is a profit, somewhat than a hindrance, as a mere 8% of users suppose they are going to swap manufacturers for his or her subsequent handset. Fitbit, then again, has all however cornered the mainstream health-monitoring section—mid-range sufficient to have broad enchantment with performance ok to enchantment to critical health buffs. Garmin is for the health-and-performance nuts, Withings for the type experts. So the place does Fb match? Is Fb a premium service value a premium price ticket, or will it’s on the low-cost and cheerful finish of the market? It’s onerous to say.

A smartwatch does have the potential to remodel Fb’s {hardware} fortunes, notably if it could align all the weather of digital camera, worth level, connectivity, and expertise in a approach not one of the incumbents have managed but. If rumors are true, Fb is wanting to differentiate with not one however two cameras. It may additionally ultimately turn into a companion to augmented reality glasses, that are additionally within the pipeline.

Fb’s “transfer quick and break issues” ethos is also behind its failure to launch, technologically-speaking. Lengthy manufacturing timelines, prime quality calls for from the get-go, and sufficient quantity to fulfill market demand are anathema to the “all the time in beta,” “executed is higher than good” Fb philosophy. This, and the lingering points over privacy-data leakage, plus consumer belief are giving the corporate some huge hills to climb if it desires to tackle Apple and Google on their very own turf.


Carl Uminski is the cofounder and COO of Somo.