Google’s hardware division just took a body blow. The company has confirmed it’s laying off hundreds of hardware workers, especially in its augmented reality division — and 9to5Google is reporting that Fitbit co-founders James Park, Eric Friedman, and other Fitbit leaders are leaving the company entirely.
Update, 1:42AM ET: It’s not just Fitbit and AR. Around a thousand Google layoffs were just confirmed, and there may be more.
Here’s Google’s statement to 9to5Google:
A few hundred roles are being eliminated in DSPA with the majority of impacts on the 1P AR Hardware team. While we are making changes to our 1P AR hardware team, Google continues to be deeply committed to other AR initiatives, such as AR experiences in our products, and product partnerships.
Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini confirmed the numbers to The Verge.
This is likely the end of Fitbit as we know it, just over four years after Google bought the company for $2.1 billion in November 2019.
Not that this entirely comes as a surprise. My colleague Victoria Song spent a good portion of last year writing about how Google was not only dropping the ball with Fitbit, but hanging users out to dry by axing beloved features, presiding over multi-day outages, and generally pushing people towards a Pixel Watch instead of a Fitbit band. The company even quietly pulled Fitbit products from over a dozen countries.
For its part, Google’s spokesperson says that Fitbit will live on: “We remain very committed to serving our Fitbit users well, innovating in the health space with personal AI, and building on the momentum with Pixel Watch, the redesigned Fitbit app, Fitbit Premium service, and the Fitbit tracker line. This work will continue to be a key part of our new org model,” Mencini tells The Verge.
Google’s AR efforts have similarly been in question after the company’s head of that tech, Clay Bavor, left last February to pursue AI instead, and the team’s software leader Mark Lucovsky departed as well. The company reportedly killed its Project Iris augmented reality glasses many months ago. Stephen Lake, co-founder of the AR glasses company North that Google bought in 2020, also left Google last June according to his LinkedIn page.
When Google says its “1P AR hardware team” is seeing the majority of impacts, that means it’s chosen to spend fewer dollars on developing its own glasses by itself. The company’s also been public about working with Samsung and Qualcomm on headsets, but we’ve yet to see the fruits of those labors and one report suggested the Samsung partnership was facing setbacks as well.
Google didn’t respond to our question about whether it’s no longer working on its own AR hardware, and it didn’t specifically confirm the departure of Fitbit leaders. Here’s what the company would say:
As we’ve said, we’re responsibly investing in our company’s biggest priorities and the significant opportunities ahead. To best position us for these opportunities, throughout the second half of 2023, a number of our teams made changes to become more efficient and work better, and to align their resources to their biggest product priorities. Some teams are continuing to make these kinds of organizational changes, which include some role eliminations globally. We’re continuing to support any impacted employees as they look for new roles here at Google and beyond.
Also helpful to know / include that impacted employees will all be able to apply for open roles across Google. We’re also supporting all impacted employees, in line with local requirements, including time to explore different roles at Google and elsewhere, outplacement services, and severance offerings.
We’ve written about Google’s “postpandemic reckoning” layoffs, and the company’s certainly not alone in letting go of tech workers during this winter season.