Google Fi still kicking, gets third rebrand in less than a decade

It's better than a one-way trip to the Graveyard

Google might have a history of killing useful products, but its Fi mobile service has survived seven years and, as of today, a third rebranding.

Beginning life in 2015 as Project Fi, then Google Fi, and now Google Fi Wireless, Google also announced some new services and features for its mobile virtual network (which operates on T-Mobile and US Cellular's networks), including expanded support for some smartwatches and a seven-day free trial for new customers.

While some smartwatches were available on Google Fi previously, Fi Wireless is adding support for Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 and the Pixel Watch to its lowest-tier of service, called Simply Unlimited. Under the new plan, each Google Fi Wireless account on the Simply Unlimited plan is eligible for connections with compatible Samsung and Pixel watches, free of charge.

"Previously, Simply Unlimited users couldn't buy a watch from Google Fi or use data, calls, and text services unless connected with Bluetooth. However, existing Simply Unlimited Users won't have wearable connectivity turned on until after their first billing cycle following April 19, 2023," Google said - so watch your bill for an actual activation date. 

Sorry, Apple Watch users: Those aren't included in Fi Wireless' new offering, so you'll have to keep that Apple Watch tethered to your iPhone, even if it has cellular capabilities. 

Free trial, provided you unenroll in time

"We invite anyone with an eSIM compatible phone interested in trying out Google Fi Wireless to sign up for our 7-day free trial," Google said, adding in a hover-over footnote that the plan would begin automatically billing after the end of the trial, but that users could cancel anytime and retain the full week's service. 

As the service uses a virtual eSIM, trial customers don't have to swap out a card or risk losing their existing service - "the trial works right on your phone alongside your current service," Google said. 

Google also said that it was adding a new "family-centric experience" to the Fi Wireless app that includes spam blocking and location sharing for all numbers on a Fi account. Each user on an account can apply filtering options, like a data usage cap or only allowing phone calls from numbers the account holder specifies. 

An option is also being added for Fi customers to pay the full price for a new phone upfront, but get it refunded over two years of bill credits. 

How is Fi still in the fight?

It's unclear why Fi has managed to survive while countless other Google products have been born and terminated in less time than Fi has been out of beta. Google doesn't publish subscriber numbers for the service, which makes it difficult to ascertain how profitable Fi is. Adding to the confusion, Fi isn't mentioned in Google's most recent earning statements. 

Then again, it's likely to be the source of a massive amount of data that Google can use to sell ads to customers, so Fi profitability probably isn't as important as the additional economic benefits that come with access to the phones and usage habits of potentially tens of thousands of customers. 

Fi has been one of Google's less troublesome products, and only really ran into an issue in early 2018 when it was accused of charging customers for data delivered via Wi-Fi networks it didn't control. The case was dismissed after the judge in the case found plaintiff Gordon Beecher's arguments unconvincing and "insufficiently pled."

We emailed Google to try to get some answers about Fi's user numbers, as well as asking how it has survived while other Google services haven't, but haven't heard back. ®

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