San Francisco-based Jawbone, a company best known for fashion-minded Bluetooth headsets and iPod speakers, has acquired mobile health startup Massive Health and design firm Visere for an undisclosed sum to help it refine and improve its own wearable health device, UP. GigaOM Founder Om Malik first broke the news of the acquisition.
“Massive Health was a company born from a passion to make products that make being healthy as easy as using an iPhone. By bringing together the best and brightest from Silicon Valley, we believed we could help galvanize a design renaissance in health,” the startup wrote on its site today. “With this acquisition, we believe we’ve succeeded. By bringing Jawbone and Massive Health together we unify under one roof their world-class product team and our deep software know-how. Together, we’ll make products that help everyone love to live better. Products that can blend in seamlessly with your life: from your wrist, to your phone, to your doctor’s office. It’s a perfect match.”
Massive Health has been relatively quiet since it first launched in late 2010, but it did publicly launch one app, called The Eatery, and quietly tested out another diabetes management-related app, which was at one time called Penguine. Massive Health raised $2.25 million from a number of unnamed angel investors and firms that included Felicis VC, Greylock Discovery Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Charles River Ventures.
In its current iteration Jawbone’s UP is a durable, water-resistant bracelet that feeds a companion app with sleep and activity data. Jawbone made headlines when it first launched UP in July 2011 and subsequently sold hundreds of thousands of units on Black Friday of that year. That launch was followed by three weeks of users reporting major problems with the device, and finally by a voluntary refund program and a halt on production in early December 2011. Although Jawbone was lauded for the quick response, the failure was still a major setback for the company’s first foray into self-tracking.
Jawbone offered a full refund at the time, with or without a return of the device, and announced a temporary stop on production — which ended up lasting nearly a year. They said they used that time to troubleshoot the hardware problems with the device, and to refine and develop the software. The company eventually relaunched UP in November 2012 and in the announcement it claimed the device went through “nearly three million hours of real-world testing”.
Since Jawbone’s UP was designed by fashion and tech designer Yves Behar, it should come as no surprise that of all the health startups it could have acquired it picked the design-centric team at Massive Health.
When Massive Health first launched its co-founder Aza Raskin, the former creative lead of Mozilla’s Firefox, wrote: “Health care needs to have its design renaissance, where products and services are redesigned to be responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties.”
In a subsequent blog post in early 2011, the company’s other co-founder Sutha Kamal, who ended up leaving the company last year, wrote that the real need was better design for chronic condition apps and services not fitness apps, which has been Jawbone’s focus with UP.
“There are some great wellness and fitness apps out there,” Kamal wrote at the time. “Whether it’s Nike+, or Cyclemeter (my personal favorite), if you want an app to help you get and stay active, you’re spoiled for choice. But what if you’re actually ill? Then there’s nothing sleek or sexy to help you manage your disease. You’re back to the world of clinical health applications that aren’t especially friendly, easy to understand or use, and certainly aren’t social.”
With Massive Health’s acquisition by Jawbone — a company clearly more interested in fitness than chronic condition management today — the question is: Has the startup abandoned its original plan to bring a design renaissance to healthcare? Is it simply going to help Jawbone make more beautiful fitness devices and apps?