Pebble heralded the dawn of the modern smartwatch era way before the big players like Apple, Samsung, Garmin, and Fitbit entered the market. The company made it big on the crowdfunding program, Kickstarter when in 2012 around 70,000 backers pledged over 10 million USD for the original Pebble Watch. To put things into context, this was the first Kickstarter project able to attract massive funding and audience at that time.
Ten years after, there is no sign of Pebble whatsoever. So what happened to the Pebble Watch?
In this post, we would delve into the Pebble journey that started as the pioneer of smartwatch technology and ended at a souring defeat to big players.
The Promising Start:
Pebble Technology Corporation, previously known as the Allerta, was the brain child of Eric Migicovsky. Before the first ‘Pebble Watch’, the company has sold ‘inPulse smartwatch’ for BlackBerry devices. The company struggled in its initial years when it failed to align any major investor to its cause.
Pebble turned to crowd funding platform Kickstarter in April 2012 where nothing short of a miracle happened. Thousands of people rallied around Eric’s cause, and the company got some serious funding.
- The initial fundraising target was $100,000
- The target was met within 2 hours of going live on April 11, 2012
- The project raised over 4.7 million with 30 days left in campaigning
- On May 18, 2012 the fundraising was closed with $10,266,845 pledged by 68,929 people.
- It broke Kickstarter’s fundraising record.
The success of the fundraising had many reasons behind it. First and foremost, the technology was revolutionary by the standard of 2012, actually way ahead of its time. Secondly, the original watch was priced at $150 with first 200 pre-orders were getting it at a discounted price of $99.
The Original Pebble Watch:
The first edition Pebble Watch had a simple design with features that are now the baseline standard in modern day smartwatches.
The Watch was compatible with both IOS and Android. Though not initially intended, the success of the Kickstarter Campaign and the suggestion of backers compelled the team behind Pebble Watch to increase water resistance to 5 ATM and Bluetooth capability to 4.0.
They plastic body of the smartwatch was unimpressive, well of course the company had to made compromise. The same goes for the touchscreen which was a bit of fingerprint magnet. But the simplicity of design and ingenious user interface made amends for it.
We don’t call the tech way ahead of its time for nothing. The watch was empowered to control music, borrowed GPS from the phone to track positions, delivered smartphone notifications/caller ID, and had its own app store. In fact, it has an open software development kit that enabled developers to build apps. The company managed to persuade heavy-weights like Uber, Runkeeper, Misfit and TripAdvisor to develop their apps for Pebble Watch.
Pebble Watch boasted a five-day battery performance, and to user’s surprise, it lived up to that promise.
Pebble Watch was Kickstarter’s poster child. The company, unlike other crowd-funded projects, excellently managed the expectation of its backers. People were more than satisfied, they were taken aback by the futuristic features of the Original Pebble Watch.
The company encountered manufacturing difficulties when it delayed the shipping of the original Pebble watch from September 2012 to January, 2013. The problem pestered till the end.
To give you a context, in third quarter of 2016 when Apple was shipping about 2.8m smart watches, Pebble was far behind with its 130,000. The company failed to capitalize on the leverage they had as the first movers.
Pebble’s supply chain didn’t catch up with the big competitors even when it had plenty of time. Some people close to the company blamed Pebble’s supply chain team for playing favorites, attempting to move a lot of production from Taiwan-based Quanta Computer to Compal Electronics.
Migicovsky tried his best to raise money from private equity funds and other private investing groups, but his efforts didn’t materialize. Meanwhile, the company had a hard time solving its cash flow issues and debt to suppliers.
Pebble came back knocking at Kickstarter door for the production of its second generation watches: the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel. In March, 2015 the crowd-funding campaign managed to get around 20 million USD from backers. There was a third campaign too in 2016, which secured a little over 12 million USD.
All these effort went down the drain when Apple made a successful entry in the market with its first Apple Watch. The California-based tech giant captured a large share of the market for itself. It swallowed Pebble’s market share with its exceptional supply chain management, expertise in sales and marketing, but most importantly, its massive budget.
The day Apple Watch hit the market, it was game over for unprepared Pebble.
The trajectory Pebble was following was meant for an ominous future. Insiders knew well of this fact. The company would have managed to compete against the likes of LG, Samsung, and Fitbit, but against Apple it had no chance.
The company admitted defeat by selling to Fitbit for a mere $40 million in December 2016 leaving many backers without promised devices. Full refunds were promised, and Fitbit as a part of the deal had to pay the backers. Future products like Pebble Time 2 and Pebble two were cancelled. Fitbit promised the web services support for two more years.
Fitbit get a hold of the software technology that runs Pebble’s products and retained certain employees. The hardware team was ditched as Fitbit itself was a contemporary wearable manufacturer that managed to stay afloat by focusing on health and fitness features.
The Fitbit OS in the original Fitbit Versa and Ionic was loaded with Pebble DNA. Chances are the latest Fitbit Sense and Versa 3 has still has a software parts that can be traced back to Pebble.
More interestingly, Fitbit also lost the battle to Apple when its market share stagnated. Google acquisition of Fitbit right at the start of 2021, and its future plan to revamp Wear OS with its help (plus Samsung) to take on Apple Watch means that Pebble (even a tiny part of it) has come back with a vengeance.
However, if you want to know what happened to the Pebble Watch and its successors, you would be unsurprised to know that Fitbit cut them out a long ago. However, hundreds of thousands of these watches get their second life when former Pebble employees joined hands to run Rebble Operating System on the watch.
What is Rebble?
Rebble was set up around the time that Fitbit decided to cease operations for previous Pebble Watches (back in 2018). Its goal was to keep the platform that powered many of Pebble services and features, and people behind it were no other Pebble developers and enthusiasts.
In February 2018, Rebble announced Rebble Web Services, its solution to keep core elements of the Pebble ecosystem live. This included offering an app store, firmware updates and the ability to create mobile apps. The hope was to get as many of the services as possible live in time for the Fitbit server shutdown.
Kevin is a Tech journalist for over a decade. He writes on Wearables, Headphones, and Laptops. When he is not glued to his laptop, You will find him working on exciting projects that include Unboxing new Gadgets, comparing them, and tweaking their hardware.