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Is Fitbit Working on New Audio Products? Jawbone Filing Claims It Is.

Jawbone's lawsuit filing claims Fitbit poached talent for upcoming audio products.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

A lawsuit filed earlier today by Jawbone against rival wearable-maker Fitbit alleges that Fitbit is looking to make audio products that would compete with Jawbone’s.

On Page 18 of the complaint, which was filed in California State Court, Jawbone suggests that Fitbit poached a particular employee, Patrick Narron, because of his specific expertise in audio design and engineering.

“To date, Fitbit has never offered to consumers any product that contains a speaker or other component designed for independent audio playback,” the document reads. “Although the development of audio products now appears to be a strategic initiative for Fitbit, the company lacked the expertise and competency to success in that competitive market. … Fitbit sought to … acquire that expertise overnight by luring Mr. Narron to join the company (with a wealth of Jawbone’s confidential information about audio products in tote).” (Emphasis added.)

On the following page the complaint says:

“As an expert in audio signal chain, Mr. Narron was leading Jawbone’s design of its new headset, which is a product category for which Fitbit did not, and does not, have a competing offering. … Put simply, Mr. Narron was an ideal target for Fitbit, which wanted to develop a line of audio products using the proprietary expertise of its chief competitor.”

And later on:

“Mr. Narron has disclosed, used and continues to use these trade secrets in the performance of his job at Fitbit, and threatens to continue to use some or all of these trade secrets in the future, for example, by utilizing Jawbone’s manufacturing processes or audio signal chain designs in developing audio products for Fitbit as it scrambles to figure out a strategic path forward,” Jawbone’s complaint says.

So. Is Fitbit working on new audio products?

A representative for Jawbone, as well as Jawbone’s legal team, would not comment or offer further details on these particular claims in the suit. And Fitbit has not yet responded to requests for comment about its supposed plans.

But if Fitbit is working on audio products, it would mean a new product category for the San Francisco company, which recently announced plans for an IPO.

“Audio products” could also mean a variety of things, ranging from entirely new form factors to functions within existing products.

Let’s take a look at some totally theoretical possibilities:

Bluetooth speakers: This one would come as a bit of a surprise, since Fitbit for the past eight years has only sold activity-tracking products (unlike Jawbone, which launched in 2002 as a company that made noise-canceling audio technology). A Bluetooth speaker doesn’t exactly fit within Fitbit’s current mission as a health-and-wellness company. On the other hand, margins can be pretty high on items like Bluetooth speakers. As NPD Group analyst Ben Arnold once said when I asked why there were so darn many Bluetooth speakers on the market, “If you have the right mix of brand [and] good-enough audio engineering, there is a lot of opportunity.”

Activity-tracking headphones: This type of device would be more in line with Fitbit’s current product lineup — say, if Fitbit ported some of its activity-tracking and heart-rate monitoring sensors into a pair of fitness headphones. On the flip side, since Fitbit’s other wearables are supposed to track your steps and workouts 24/7 anyway, Fitbit could potentially be working on non-activity-tracking headphones (or headsets) that simply act as a companion product to other Fitbits. And, as with a Bluetooth speaker, if they’re priced on the high end, there’s the potential for fat profit margins.

Audio alerts within activity-trackers: A decidedly less exciting possibility, but worth noting regardless, is that Fitbit might simply be looking to hire a person or people with audio expertise because the company is looking to create or improve audio alerts for existing products — in this case, wearables.

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