This week’s announcements by Fitbit that they would acquire smartwatch-maker Pebble and form a new partnership with Medtronic are signs that the fitness wearable company is pursuing a strategy to become more than just a “nice-to-have” consumer products firm. Comments at an industry forum on Wednesday by CEO James Park made it clear that Fitbit is pushing a sizable stack of chips into a high-stakes poker game with a bid to become not merely fashionable, but essential in the competitive wearable technology market.

CEO says Fitbit wants to save lives

Park appeared at an executive briefing yesterday in San Francisco hosted by the digital news outlet Quartz and Ernst & Young.

In his comments with Quartz editor Kevin Delaney, Park explained that the two announcements this week were part of Fitbit’s strategy to become more of a health solutions company. “We want to move from ‘nice to have’ to ‘need to have,’” said Park. “By wearing a Fitbit, it should be able to save your life.”

The new partnership with Medtronic will give Fitbit users insight into how exercise regimens can impact glucose levels, an essential component for diabetics who must monitor their health metrics on a daily basis. While he did not go into specifics, Park indicated that the software and technical talent acquired in the Pebble deal would help his company build a distinct identity in the health solutions space.

“We want to make continuous health monitoring fun and engaging,” said Park.

Not included in the acquisition by Fitbit is Pebble's hardware, which means the Pebble smartwatch has become an early casualty in the competition to become a dominant force in tech wearables. Pebble, who broke records in crowdsourced funding during its introduction in 2012, had been moving towards a fitness-focused platform which is presumably why Fitbit came calling.

Talks with Pebble suddenly progressed quickly

According to Park, Fitbit had engaged in several conversations with Pebble over an unspecified period of time, but nothing significant came out of them. More recent discussions suddenly led to serious talk of an acquisition and the deal was finally struck this week.

“Things really made sense,” said Park of Fitbit’s dialogue with Pebble’s management. “The deal came together pretty quickly.”

As the smartwatch industry evolved in 2016, both companies had some urgency to complete a deal. Industry shipments of smartwatch models have dropped significantly over the past two quarters and Pebble reduced its staff by 25% earlier this year. Park did not comment on the acquisition price, which has been rumored to be under $40 million.

As for Fitbit, the company has struggled since going public eighteen months ago. The firm recently announced a reduced forecast for holiday sales and Fitbit’s stock price has been hovering around $8 per share. The company has also endured criticism after a California State Polytechnic University study found inaccurate readings in their heart rate trackers.

Responding to the concerns over fitness tracking accuracy, Park disputed the findings at Wednesday’s briefing saying “I’ll contest our critics on that.”

Park was coy about disclosing future plans in the aftermath of the Pebble and Medtronic deals. However, he did indicate that the company was taking a closer look at ways to improve the battery life for its devices. Fitbit also collects a tremendous amount of user data and Park told the Quartz gathering that he was looking into how machine learning could make better use of that information.

Asked about the impact of taking his company public, Park sounded wistful about the earlier days. “It’s definitely easier to fix things when you’re private,” said Park.

“Now there’s more scrutiny on you.” With this week’s major deals, that scrutiny is likely to continue for some time.

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