Withings isn’t exactly a household name outside of the fitness world, but they make fitness trackers, blood pressure cuffs, baby monitors, scales, and similar devices that all work together under the same ecosystem. That ecosystem has a new umbrella today, as Nokia announced they’re acquiring Withings and diving into the fitness tracking world.
This is a bit of a left-field acquisition, as Nokia took a huge step back from hardware a few years ago, selling much of their handset business to Microsoft. However, Nokia has deep roots in the hardware world; who didn’t have one of those ubiquitous Nokia cell phones with the interchangeable faceplates? It may seem like a fitness tracker is a hard pivot for a company known for telephone networking, but Withings may end up being a good fit for Nokia’s OTHER business, Nokia Technologies.
Nokia Technologies is where Nokia experiments with more cutting edge ideas than just connecting telephone lines. That’s where the Nokia N1 Android tablet was made, as well as the OZO, a camera designed to assist in filming for virtual reality. Basically, Nokia is prepping a portfolio of “what if” products. What if virtual reality truly is the next big thing? Nokia has a camera to help content creators leverage that. What if tablets actually do usurp PC use? Nokia has a toe in that world too. Nokia also has an enormous patent portfolio thanks to their cell phone/smartphone/symbian OS days, so there’s a high likelihood they have a patent somewhere that will help keep them relevant no matter where the tech world goes.
With all that in mind, acquiring Withings actually makes a lot of sense. Nokia picks up a relatively popular company that’s made inroads in the fitness market, but isn’t nearly as big as a Fitbit or Garmin. They get a full ecosystem of devices, plus a treasure trove of fitness and health data. It’s hard to say what Nokia will do with it all, but if the “internet of things” is really going to succeed, fitness and health are going to be a key part of that. If they can figure out how Withings products tie into a connected home, for example, they will have quite the powerful set of tools in the market.
This does lead to a few questions about where the fitness tracker market is headed. Misfit was acquired by Fossil, Withings is off the market, and Jawbone is hanging on by a thread. Fitbit is seen as the most successful of the bunch, but they’re all looked at as second tier when compared to smartwatches like the Apple Watch. It’s not surprising that as the fitness tracker market matures, there’s a great deal of contraction and consolidation. It’s safe to say Misfit and Fossil are a fashion-focused pairing, while Withings has always been health focused, and Fitbit and Jawbone try to straddle style and substance with mixed success. It’s still a tight market where the slightest edge could make the difference, and if Nokia can leverage the portfolio of products Withings brings to the tablet, it might tip the scales in Nokia’s favor.
The real question is, with Nokia’s backing, will Withings move from niche product to mainstream success, or will this acquisition be a footnote in the larger story of the ups and downs of Nokia?