Fitbit employees charged with stealing Jawbone trade secrets

Six current and former Fitbit employees have been hit with a federal indictment over the theft of trade secrets from one-time rival, Jawbone. All had worked for Jawbone for at least a year between 2011 and 2015, before jumping ship and getting hired by the company’s chief competitor.

The allegations have been floating around for a while. Look, we even made a graphic for the stream of allegations being lobbed back and forth between the wearable makers.

Shortly before Fitbit’s 2015 IPO, Jawbone filed a suit alleging that Fitbit had attempted to recruit nearly a third of its employees. The suit was seemingly resolved late last year, however, through a global settlement between both parties.

“In a trade secret misappropriation case brought by Jawbone in the International Trade Commission in 2016 that involved these same individuals,” Fitbit said in a statement given to TechCrunch this morning, “a federal administrative law judge during a nine-day trial on the merits found that no Jawbone trade secrets were misappropriated or used in any Fitbit product, feature or technology.”

Jawbone, of course, has since fallen on tough times. The company was liquidated roughly this time last year, as CEO Hosain Rahman set out to create a related health startup. As far as the DOJ was concerned, however, the story isn’t finished just yet.

“Intellectual property is the heart of innovation and economic development in Silicon Valley,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse told MarketWatch “The theft of trade secrets violates federal law, stifles innovation, and injures the rightful owners of that intellectual property.”

Update: Rahman has provided TechCrunch the following statement,

We believe the Justice Department’s indictment of six current and former Fitbit Inc. employees for stealing trade secrets from their former employer, Jawbone, validates the claims we made in our 2015 lawsuit against Fitbit . On behalf of former employees, investors, suppliers and others associated with Jawbone, we look forward to seeing justice take its course in this case.

Fitbit beats revenue expectations slightly, but tracker sales are still down

Fitbit scored a small coup on earnings this week, ever so slightly beating revenue expectations for the quarter. The company pulled in $247.9 million, up over Wall Street’s expected $247.3 million. Of course, that’s still a notable drop from this time last year, when the company pulled in $298.9 million.

The numbers are down as the overall fitness tracking category has declined, and the company sold 2.2 million devices in the quarter, missing analyst expectations of 2.33 million. Fitbit has adjusted its second quarter revenue expectation, accordingly. “We expect results to be impacted by the reduced demand by the channel for trackers, partially offset by an increase in smartwatch revenue, driven primarily by Versa sales,” the company wrote in a release announcing earnings. “We expect smartwatches to grow as a percentage of revenue, but our overall mix to continue to be skewed towards trackers.”

That’s in line with the company’s overall strategy over the past year, which saw a marked shift into the world of smartwatches — a rare overall bright light in the fitness wearable space, thanks in large part to the success of the Apple Watch. Fitbit has invested a good chunk of change in acquisitions, resulting in the release of the Ionic and Versa. And given the devices’ higher per unit price, the company ultimately has to sell fewer to maintain revenue. 

The release mostly glosses over the existence of the Ionic, save for a mention of the fact that the device was announced in the past year — and that it helped reduce “development hours by around 45-percent on the Versa.” That makes perfect sense, of course — the hard work of incorporating all of its recent acquisitions and distilling all of those learnings into a hardware and software offering were mostly accomplished with the Ionic.

The point of all of that being that now Fitbit knows how to make a smartwatch, so doing so in the future should be less resource-intensive, moving forward. That will likely come in handy as the company seems poised to invest more and more of its resources into its growing healthcare sector.

Fitbit stock jumped recently, courtesy of its announced partnership with Google, which will help make health info tracked on its devices more easily accessible by doctors. There is, of course, plenty of money to be made in the healthcare sector, but Fitbit is going to have a bit of an uphill battle getting providers to take its offerings more seriously as medical devices.

“We continued to deepen our relationship with our users, investing in software and services that deliver on our promise of helping people achieve better health outcomes,” CEO James Park said in a release tied to the earnings. “To this end, we closed the acquisition of Twine Health and, most recently announced a long-term collaboration with Google that will accelerate innovation in digital health and wearables.” 

The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

[gallery ids="1622526,1622527,1622528,1622529"]

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

Fitbit is teaming with Adidas for a branded version of its Ionic smartwatch

 The Ionic needs to be a big product for Fitbit. Sure, the company’s CEO assured me that it’s not make or break, but after years of research and development and tens of millions in acquisitions, Fitbit needs a hit. The company’s hedging its bets a bit by bringing on third party launch partners like Starbucks and Pandora for its new app store, and is teaming up one key company… Read More

Jawbone is being liquidated as its CEO launches a related health startup

 The slow and painful demise of Jawbone is finally coming to an end, as yet another effort to rejuvenate the business is beginning under a familiar name. After a multi-year struggle to maintain relevance in the consumer wearable market, Jawbone is now liquidating — and some of the driving forces behind the original company are forming a new business called Jawbone Health Hub. Read More

Fitbit reveals it paid $23 million to acquire Pebble’s assets

Fitbit Flex 2 Among the more interesting tidbits to be found in Fitbit’s disappointing new financial filing is the fact that it apparently picked up Pebble’s assets for a relative song. While the company didn’t reveal the actual numbers when the acquisition was announced late last year, reports pegged it at upwards of $40 million. According to today’s filing, the amount Fitbit paid… Read More

Wearables have got some work to do this year

wearables It’s a wait and see moment for wrist-worn devices. After a few years of betting heavily on the space, this most recent CES didn’t offer much; save for two or three smartwatch announcements, some partnerships and a couple of middling bands, the industry seems to have largely shifted its focus toward the connected home and the seemingly attainable dream of sticking Alexa in… Read More