As you may already be aware, smartwatch manufacturer Pebble announced earlier today that its software assets would be acquired by once-rival company, Fitbit. The acquisition is effective immediately, which has resulted in some less-than-desirable changes for Pebble smartwatch owners and hopefuls, which include: cease in promotion, manufacturing, and selling of Pebble smartwatches (including the Pebble Time 2 and Core), indicated quality reduction from Pebble smartwatches in the future, and discontinuation of official warranty support, among a few others.
In a nutshell, Pebble no longer exists. Fitbit acquired Pebble at an estimated $34-40 million, an amount which is reported to “barely” cover Pebble’s debts. As a result of the acquisition, Fitbit will obtain “key personnel and intellectual property related to Pebble’s software and firmware development.”
I do feel a bit disappointed. It has taken me a good 3 years to buy a smartwatch, with my first and only choice being a Pebble device. Its affordable price tag, long battery life, and e-paper display were the features that sold me on it. The Time may not be anything fancy, but its features are useful. Knowing that these defining features could very well be boxed up and put away by Fitbit is a gloomy thought.
I also wonder what this acquisition means for the smartwatch industry. How did Pebble, the start-up that essentially started the smartwatch industry, end up dying on such a miserable note?
Some speculate that it was mismanagement and overzealous creation of new watches; others pin it on Pebble’s unique hardware design, which was often perceived as being “unprofessional” and “ugly”. Additionally, Pebble’s smartwatches didn’t “do” as much as other smartwatches on the market, but was at least justified by the fact that Pebble smartwatches (save for the Round) featured longer battery life than most smartwatches by lasting up to a week without needing a recharge. Yet, even when you look at the other side of the industry, where smartwatches are designed with beauty and fashion in mind and can function nearly as well as the smartphone it’s connected to, smartwatches aren't exactly "booming". Features may be plentiful and displays and designs may be premium, but battery life is abysmal.
Truthfully, it’s hard to tell where smartwatches stand with consumers. BGR states that analyst reports conflict with each other, stating that sales are both down 50 percent and up 60 percent. Apple has yet to officially release Apple Watch sales numbers. Apple CEO Tim Cook disputes a recent IDC report stating that Apple Watch sales are down 71% year over year. According to Reuters, Cook says, “Sales growth is off the charts,” for the Apple Watch. However, without official reports from Apple, consumers will just have to take the statement at face value.
It would seem like the uncertainty regarding smartwatch sales is a toss-up between consumers feeling like they don’t need a smartwatch and not having the proper technology to create a “good” smartwatch with high-quality design, premium features, and good battery life. Even if the “perfect” smartwatch existed, when I stop to think about what a world without smartwatches would be like, I come to the realization that my life, as an average consumer, would be largely unaffected. I think certain people do benefit heavily from smartwatch technology, but for most people it’s just not that useful.
As for Pebble, their fate seems like a mix of everything: poor decisions, lack of highly desirable features, and the unfortunate reality that smartwatches may well end up going down in history as little more than a passing fad. Still, it would be unfair to discredit Pebble entirely; after all, they essentially got the ball rolling for smartwatches. They had humble beginnings (and endings) by only using Kickstarter campaigns to gauge consumer interest and raise funds. They didn’t even charge that much – a fairly modest $150 – for the very first Pebble Watch, which is a rarity when it comes to new technology. I would argue that Pebble deserves our thanks as much as it does our condolences.
In regards to Fitbit’s acquisition of Pebble, I do hope to see Fitbit incorporate Pebble’s technology in future products. My Pebble Time may not be a life-changing gadget, but it does have its uses, and overall I consider it a positive addition to my life. I would hate to see those great features fall by the wayside.