Facebook is building a smartwatch as part of its ongoing hardware efforts, according to a new report from The Information. The new Facebook watch that likely won’t be called the Facebook Watch will hit the market sometime next year. As part of the company’s push into hardware, the watch will be Android-based, but it’s unknown whether it will use Google’s Wear OS. In a market where Apple dominates and major players have their own footholds domestically and abroad, the new watch could be dead on arrival.
What to expect
The smartwatch is reportedly going to be powered with “an open-source version” of Android, much like the latest Oculus VR headsets – so Facebook would take the Android code that Google makes public and apply its own twist to it.
Another detail revealed by The Information is that the smartwatch is going to have its own cellular connection, so you’ll be able to make and receive calls without connecting to a smartphone. The watch should be compatible with both Android and iOS devices.
This smartwatch is being scheduled to launch at some point in 2022, and a follow-up is already said to be in the pipeline for 2023, so it seems Facebook is keen to commit to this new area of hardware development with a regular product release schedule.
When it comes to those health and messaging features, the watch will of course connect to all of Facebook’s various social products and messaging apps, and is reportedly going to support connections to health and fitness equipments too.
Facebook has no doubt seen the success of the Apple Watch and decided that this is a market that it needs to be in as well. The two companies might also soon be competing against each other with their own smart glasses, if the rumours are to be believed.
Considering that Facebook was interested in acquiring Fitbit before Google snapped it up, this isn’t such a surprising move for the company as it looks to diversify beyond social networking.
At this point, Facebook has generally bought its way into the hardware conversation, which Google and Microsoft can attest to being a risky strategy. This time, it seems to be building a product from scratch when it doesn’t have a strong delivery history, even with a significant partnership.
For Facebook, this may be a risk worth taking as it tries to escape from under Apple and Google’s thumbs. This thirst for freedom and its own vertically integrated monopoly, however, flies in the face of the government’s interest in breaking the company apart. If it’s going to have to go home, it seems like Facebook at least wants to try and go big first.
Who would buy this?
Smartwatches pull quite a lot of personal data, and Facebook’s reputation in that department is far from pristine. Somehow, the company seems blissfully unaware that the general public will likely resist handing over more data to it. Or it’s simply pretending not to care, as it did when it launched its Portal smart displays. Combined with the uphill battle it will have to wage against other big tech companies, this watch may be a lofty, out-of-touch goal.
Apple CEO Tim Cook decided to indulge in the art of subtle jabs during a speech presented at the International Data Privacy Day virtual panel. Amid rows with Facebook over its data privacy policies and a brewing lawsuit, Cook restated his support for Apple’s emerging privacy upgrades for iOS 14 apps.
“As I’ve said before,” Cook stated, “if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.”
The Apple CEO did not name names; he never once mentions “Facebook” or “Mark Zuckerberg” but his comments hit close to home for the embattled social media company. “We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you,” Cook said. “It’s technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up. That tells you when you’ve had enough, that gives you space to create, or draw, or write or learn, not refresh just one more time. It’s technology that can fade into the background when you’re on a hike or going for a swim, but is there to warn you when your heart rate spikes or help you when you’ve had a nasty fall.”
“And that all of this,” he said, “always, puts privacy and security first, because no one needs to trade away the rights of their users to deliver a great product.” That’s gotta hurt, Facebook.
Cook puts Facebook on blast
In the past few months, Facebook has taken significant issue with Apple’s new privacy feature, which is called App Tracking Transparency. Apple is trying to create more robust and reliable privacy policies that let users know exactly when they’re being monitored by an app. Most critically, Apple will let users block web tracking if they want to.
Facebook disapproves of this move, claiming that it would hurt “small businesses” but more realistically, the company is worried about its own standing as far advertising content, tracking, and profit goes. Cook mentioned App Tracking Transparency in his speech as well.
“Users have asked for this feature for a long time,” he said. “We have worked closely with developers to give them the time and resources to implement it. And we’re passionate about it because we think it has the great potential to make things better for everybody.”
“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom,” Cook added. “If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.” Emphasis ours.
Cook’s firm isn’t enhancing privacy features for selfless reasons. It is most likely doing so to win consumers over to the Apple side, even if it ends up hurting Facebook, Google, and other competitors. But the angle Cook has taken — user privacy and even dignity — is a valuable one. And no amount of crying about anti-competition is going to thwart Apple’s case.