Breaking: Jawbone acquires BodyMedia

By Jonah Comstock
05:00 am
The BodyMedia Core 2 Armband, with "jewelry-like" customization.

The BodyMedia Core 2 Armband, with "jewelry-like" customization.

In the biggest digital health acquisition of the year so far, San Francisco-based Jawbone is acquiring Pittsburgh-based BodyMedia, the company announced this morning. Financial details of the deal have not been disclosed. This is the first major consolidation in the contentious wearable activity tracker space, and the second mobile health acquisition by Jawbone, which bought health app startup Massive Health for an undisclosed sum in February.

BodyMedia CEO Christine Robins will stay on as general manager of the BodyMedia brand and VP of Health and Wellness Business Development at Jawbone, and Jawbone will continue to sell and support existing BodyMedia products, BodyMedia told MobiHealthNews.

Jawbone and BodyMedia were both founded in 1999, though Jawbone only entered the mobile health space in 2011, with the launch of its original UP bracelet tracker. Prior to that the company focused on Bluetooth speakers, an offering that still makes up the bulk of their business. The first version of UP was discontinued with a voluntary refund after numerous user complaints, and the company has only been a serious contender in the health tracking space since its relaunch last November. Since then, the company has been aggressively developing, iterating, and -- increasingly -- acquiring in an effort to compete with the likes of Nike+ and Fitbit. Most recently, Jawbone launched an Android app and announced plans to market the UP in Europe and other international markets.

Ben Rubin, founder of the now-defunct sleep health company Zeo, pegged BodyMedia as a likely candidate for acquisition in an interview with MobiHealthNews back in 2011. At that time, the company claimed to have more than 700,000 users. The other factor that made BodyMedia a likely target for acquisitions was its wealth of intellectual property -- the company currently holds 87 patents, most related to wireless sensors and wearable monitors. Additionally, BodyMedia has 14 years of user data.

"[BodyMedia] has amassed one of the largest living databases of raw and real-world human sensor data from its patented multi-sensor body monitors with over 500 trillion sensor points collected and analyzed over the company’s history," the companies wrote in a joint press release.

Additionally, partnerships have always been a major part of BodyMedia's strategy, offering white-labeled versions of its FIT Armband through partnerships with companies like Jenny Craig and Apex Gyms. Perhaps the company's highest-profile deal was the it's inclusion on two non-consecutive seasons of NBC's "The Biggest Loser." BodyMedia told MobiHealthNews that partnership would continue into the foreseeable future. In January, the company partnered with Cigna on an employee pilot using its devices for diabetes prevention.

With its FIT Armband FDA-cleared as a Class II device (a distinction BodyMedia alone holds in the wearable tracking space), the company has always maintained that its focus is not on the fitness enthusiast or the casual wellness tracker. Instead, BodyMedia has focused on creating devices for people with chronic weight problems looking to solve them and prevent complications like diabetes. Even when the company announced a more fashion-forward version of its armband at CES this year (a move with a nod toward Jawbone's focus on aesthetic design), CEO Christine Robins maintained that their mission hadn't changed, and they weren't targeting the casual exerciser.

The Core 2 was set to launch later this year, as was the Vue Patch, a disposable adhesive sensor. It's unclear whether these products will still launch on schedule or at all in light of the acquisition.

So far, Jawbone's acquisition of Massive Health has seemed to shake out as more of a talent grab, with no immediate changes to Jawbone's offerings. But Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman's statement to the press seems to suggest more of a partnership coming out of this BodyMedia acquisition:

"There’s an enormous appetite for personal data and self-discovery among consumers that will only continue to grow," he said. "Together, BodyMedia and Jawbone have almost three decades worth of deep tech, science and intellectual property around sophisticated sensors on the body, and nearly 300 issued and pending patents around wearable technology. We look forward to pushing new boundaries, creating new markets, and showing people what’s truly possible with wearable computing."


The Jawbone UP bracelet and app.

Jawbone's UP device is wristworn, like many leading trackers, while BodyMedia's device is worn on the upper arm -- something that has always been somewhat of a point of pride for the company, so combining the two into a single device seems unlikely. The most likely outcome -- to capitalize on the large existing base of users and partners that made BodyMedia such an attractive acquisition to begin with -- is that Jawbone will market BodyMedia's technology as a souped-up, more data-rich counterpart to it's chic bracelet, while incorporating other facets of the technology into future generations of UP. BodyMedia's armband can sync wirelessly, for instance, whereas the Jawbone UP still has to be plugged in.

"In the future, you will see exciting products as Jawbone and BodyMedia combine forces to deliver great things across health and wellness," BodyMedia told MobiHealthNews.

Robins stated in the press release that BodyMedia's intellectual property would continue to be used to help people, and implied that their deeper approach to data gathering would be paired with Jawbone's flair for consumer appeal.

"Jawbone’s deep expertise with consumer technology, design, and building products that fit seamlessly into people’s lives is the best way to carry forward many of the innovations that BodyMedia has developed over the past 14 years," said Christine Robins, CEO of BodyMedia. "We are eager to pair our depth of insight and IP with Jawbone’s expertise so that together, we can make an even bigger impact on people’s health and help them achieve their goals."

Another open question is what effect, if any, this acquisition will have on BodyMedia's still-pending suit against activity tracker startup Basis Science. BodyMedia sued Basis in May 2012, claiming Basis’ offering infringes on six patents held by BodyMedia in more than 100 ways. Basis filed its response and counterclaims within days. Intellectual property is a big part of BodyMedia's value, so if Jawbone found the company worth acquiring, it's likely that it will continue the suit. That could be bad news for Basis, which may find itself facing off in court against a direct competitor with much deeper pockets than the one that originally filed suit.

But Basis isn't the only activity tracker that should be worried by this deal. This could be a game changer in the wearable activity tracker space. The influx of resources -- including personnel, intellectual property, and customers -- could help Jawbone leapfrog over Fitbit, and possibly even put them in the realm of tracking heavyweight Nike. We might very well see other companies in the space responding with acquisitions of their own.


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