basis carbon steel activity tracker

Why Intel would want to snap up Basis fit-tech wearable company for $100+ million

Apparently Intel wasn’t bluffing when it used CES 2014 to trumpet its interest in the wearables space. Late Monday night, TechCrunch reported that the world’s biggest name in microchips will be purchasing Basis Science, maker of the Basis Carbon Steel activity tracker, for between $100 and $150 million, referencing two anonymous sources.

The rumor would put a bookend on a TechCrunch report from late February that indicated Basis is floating an acquisition to basically anyone who would listen.

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The Basis wristbands track heart rate, an uncommon trick in today’s wearables space.

So what would Intel want in a company that makes activity-tracking wristbands? For starters, all the titans of tech are showing an interest in wearables, and Intel needs to join that party simply to stay competitive. Apple is rounding up talent in the medical sensor space, with reliable signs pointing to an iWatch release this year. Other reports tell us a Google smartwatch is imminent. And, of course, Samsung, Sony, LG, Motorola, and HTC have been trumpeting their 2014 wearables as well.

Oh, and hey: Qualcomm is a major chip company, and it’s already got a smartwatch in the Qualcomm Toq. It’s not a serious smartwatch effort, but even cautious toe-dipping has become de rigueur.

mimo infant monitor 100225019 gallery Image: Jon Phillips

At CES 2014, Intel showed off a onesie with integrated vital-sign sensors.

Intel doesn’t make branded hardware, or course, but it has a vested interest in developing and manufacturing the components that go into all our high-tech gadgets, and now it needs wearables to stay fresh and relevant. Desktop PCs are all but dead. Notebooks are becoming commodity hardware. Intel doesn’t have a foothold in ARM-dominated smartphones and tablets, so maybe, just maybe, it can get in on the ground floor of the wearables boom, and prevent the pain and suffering of playing another game of catch-up.

In the existing activity-tracking wristband space, Basis has a much smaller market share than Fitbit and Jawbone, but its band packs much more interesting sensors, and this is what Intel is interested in. In addition to the obligatory accelerometer, the Basis bands include sensors for tracking heart rate, skin temperature and perspiration, three data points that can be used to paint an accurate picture of calorie burn, and even our REM sleep patterns.

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Intel’s heart-rate-sensing earbuds were on display, but not actually working, at CES 2014.

At CES 2014, Intel showed off two interesting prototypes that indicate Basis’ technology would find a happy home in the Intel labs. First there was a baby monitor that directly recorded an infant’s vital signs via sensors sewn into a onesie. Intel also showed off a pair of heart-rate monitoring earbuds that use dynamic playlists to supercharge your workouts. 

The unifying theme here? Sensors. In 1967, a foolish man told us the future is plastics. But in 2014, the smart money is on sensors, and we’ll need smaller ones, smarter ones, and more battery-efficient ones for all the devices we strap on our faces and wrists. Intel makes components. Basis has sensor expertise—and existing, proven sensor technology. Maybe together the two companies can point Intel’s would-be manufacturing partners in more fruitful wearable-tech directions.

Intel and Basis were contacted for comment. Intel has declined to comment on “rumor and speculation,” and no word came back from Basis by press time.

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