If Jawbone Were For Sale, Who Would Buy It?

Is Jawbone in play? That’s a question that has been bounced around the rumor mill lately, likely driven by a few other huge recent acquisitions in the hardware space.

Over the last few days, the TechCrunch tips line has lit up with anonymous notes about Jawbone being acquired by Google in a multi-billion-dollar deal. (For what it’s worth, we’ve heard we’re not the only ones getting these tips.)

And while that by itself is not a sign of a deal being done, or even being close, it could be an indicator that someone out there — maybe a banker, maybe an early investor or an employee — is interested in boosting the valuation of the company.*

So far, our sources have been unable to confirm a purchase is happening, but we’re not the only ones hearing about Jawbone being in active discussions.

For whatever reason, there’s been quite a bit of chatter going around about the company having acquisition talks, if not with Google, then at least one of the other big tech giants.

Why now? Well, for one thing, everyone is trying to figure out their wearables strategy.

And with Google’s recent acquisition of Nest and Apple’s expected purchase of Beats, it’s a frothy time for independent hardware companies looking to be gobbled up.

After 15 years as a standalone company, now might be the best time for Jawbone to exit and return some of its cash to investors. That is, provided that it can find the right buyer.

On that front, things might be more complicated than they seem. Google has turned its hardware operations over to Tony Fadell and the Nest team, and while we’ve heard that he gets along with Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman, it’s not clear how that company’s product portfolio and engineering team would fit into the broader organization.

There’s also the question of how much overlap there would be between its ongoing wearables product team and what Google has been building as part of its experimental Google X  division. While Google Glass currently looks like a bust, it’s clear that the search giant is very interested in creating computing products that consumers would wear on their person.

Apple, meanwhile, has never wanted for product design talent the way that Google had prior to its Nest acquisition. Even its rumored acquisition of Beats, which makes a number of audio products that compete with Jawbone’s, has been positioned as a talent play rather than a purchase of products or IP.

All of which leaves Microsoft. The software giant has been aggressively expanding into hardware recently, with the launch of its Surface line of PCs and tablets, its XBox game console, and its acquisition of Nokia’s devices business.

Could Microsoft pick up Jawbone? Like any other wealthy technology firm, it is a potential suitor. At the same time, it’s hard to square the purchase with Microsoft’s current vision: Where do pricey speakers and headsets fit into a company straining to build out its key operating system platform, both mobile and not?

Microsoft has both the dollars and need for design talent, but that alone doesn’t make a $6 billion or $10 billion pickup sensible. It has activist shareholders after all. Unless Jawbone can directly further Microsoft’s platform or services play, expect Redmond to ignore the hype.

Or it could be no one. Who cares? It’s Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.

Jawbone declined to comment for this story. Also, Alex Wilhelm wrote that Microsoft bit.

* It’s probably worth noting here that while the anonymous TechCrunch tips line does a really bad job of predicting actual buyers, it’s very good at letting us know who’s in play. In the weeks leading up to Google’s acquisition of Nest, for instance, the tips line floated multiple anonymous rumors that the company was in talks with Apple.