It may not seem like a lot of money in an age when a 23-year-old start-up bro blithely turns down a $3 billion acquisition bid, but if Jawbone secures $250 million in venture capital as reported by Recode's Kara Swisher Thursday morning, the company will be in a better position than ever to realize its next push into wearables.
Jawbone has an eclectic hardware portfolio. The company built its name on stylish Bluetooth headsets that make people talking to themselves look a bit less douchey. Today Jawbone also makes portable Bluetooth speakers, but its most exciting product is the UP24, an activity-tracking wristband that's most notable for its simple industrial design and user-friendly app interface. But Jawbone currently has a sensor problem: The UP24 and a less advanced sister model are only equipped with an accelerometer, limiting Jawbone's fit-tech repertoire to simple step-counting and sleep tracking.
Enter BodyMedia. To date, Jawbone hasn't integrated any of BodyMedia's hyper-aware sensor technology, which measures galvanic skin response, skin temperature, and the rate at which heat leaves one's body to intuit an accurate view of calorie burn. Now, the problem with BodyMedia's wearables always tied back to complexity. I tested the company's Link Armband in 2012, and found it excessively difficult to set up and use. It's also a massive piece of kit that looks more like a medical device than a fashion accessory. These are problems in today's wearables market. Mainstream adoption requires simple operation and neutral (if not fashionable) design.
Now let's imagine how $250 million in product development could help Jawbone finally merge its dead-simple, fashion-forward UP design with the BodyMedia sensor portfolio. Let's keep this new wristband thin, slim and simple, but also integrate all of BodyMedia's advanced technology.
And just as importantly, Jawbone can use some cash to finally give BodyMedia a user-friendly software interface. This is what Jawbone really brings to the table: In an activity-tracking space where pretty much anyone can slap an accelerometer into a wristband and enter the market, Jawbone remains relevant because its app is easy and fun to use.
Who knows, maybe the BodyMedia tech is just too difficult to merge with Jawbone's brand values, and that's why we haven't seen the acquisition come to fruition — and perhaps we never will. But whatever Jawbone does with its rumored $250 million, it definitely needs to dig deeper into sensor tech just to remain competitive. Basis already has a wristband, the Basis B1, with sensors that can track heart rate and REM sleep. Epson has announced the Pulsense tracker, which will also track heart rate. And a recent report from 9to5Mac tells us that Apple's rumored iWatch might even include sensors that measure blood pressure, hydration and heart rate.
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