Facebook could soon be throwing its hat into the health and wellness wearables space. According to a Feb. 12 report from The Information citing four anonymous sources, the tech company has been working on a smartwatch that would include health and wellness and other features for consumers.
The Android-based device is said to include a cellular connection so that it can be used independent of a tethered smartphone. Unsurprisingly, the smartwatch would use Facebook's services for messaging and other social features, but could also play nice with the ecosystems of others in the health and wellness space (the report called out Peloton Interactive in particular).
Facebook has not released any statements or comments regarding the report.
WHY IT MATTERS
Facebook has been looking to extend beyond its social network and into hardware for the past several years. It purchased Oculus to get a head start on virtual reality headsets in 2014 and in 2018 launched the first of its Portal video chat-enabled smart displays. The company also announced Ray-Bans-branded smart glasses that will be available later in the year and has been upfront about its work on an augmented reality project called Project Aria.
Facebook isn't completely new to projects in the health and wellness-related realm. Within the last couple of years, the company has looked to provide tools that help the network's users understand when and where to get health checkups, backed private communities for health condition support and, over the past year in particular, grappled with COVID-19 misinformation spreading across its platforms (amidst no shortage of criticism regarding those efforts).
Still, a deliberate step into health and wellness tracking could be a hard pill for many consumers to swallow. The company has a less-than-glowing reputation for data collection and monetization, which combined with wearable sensors and service integrations could be a tough sell among the privacy-minded.
While it's likely too early to speculate on decisions such as rollout and pricing, it's worth bearing in mind the direction Facebook's taken recently with its Oculus Quest 2 headset – a major discount on the price tag compared with equivalent competition, but mandatory sign-ins and software purchases directly tied to users' Facebook accounts. A similar approach on the smartwatch front could set the company's product apart for those who have no qualms about how their data is being used.
THE LARGER TREND
Facebook would be a late entrant to a consumer smartwatch market dominated by Apple. Alongside a slew of fitness and wellness features, Apple has also been a frontrunner on sensor-and-algorithm-based health monitoring tools like built-in ECG. Others like Samsung and Fitbit (now officially owned by Google) have also ramped up their brands' health offerings, whether that be with competing ECG features or in-app blood glucose tracking support. And on the subject of wearable-support health and wellness ecosystems, both Fitbit and Apple have launched premium subscription services that use data from a smartwatch to support long-term health tracking and custom workout content.