Those of you who follow technology would have heard by now, Pebble is shutting down, after being acquired by Fitbit. As a fitbit user, I am not complaining, since Pebble did some great work that will live on through fitbit, but those of us on kickstarter in the early days remember that Pebble was a rare dream, and an ambitious one.
Remember that Kickstarter? Eric came up with an idea, an inspired idea, and ended up with a groundbreaking kickstarter campaign. Their campaign was the most successful one a crowdfunding platform has seen with staggering amount of money raised and pre-orders placed.
Before that spectacular launch, Pebble was incubated under Y combinator. The acquisition deal itself is primarily for the technology and about 40% of the work force have been offered jobs at Fitbit. Eric himself, will leave and join Y Combinator. After the merger, Pebble will shut down with no further support and upgrades offered to existing pebble products.
The Products and Technology
When the company launched its first product, Pebble, smartwatch and wearable technology was relatively new, giving Pebble a significant advantage. The product itself was pretty good with solid features like a long battery life that lasted 7 days, over 1000 applications on the Pebble store that allowed notifications like email and social media available. A couple of years later Pebble Time was released with a color display being among the major upgrades. Early this year Pebble announced its third Kickstarter campaign for their 3rd generation smartwatch, Pebble 2.
What went wrong.
- The wearable tech market is quite saturated today. Even big players like Apple are struggling with declining sales. Pebble had a head start in comparison, but they took too long to understand the actual value proposition offered by wearable hardware. Today, health and fitness are the main attractions for wearable tech. Pebble’s first product did have a bundled cycling app that tracked speed and distance. They should have anticipated their market and customer needs sooner. Only this year, with their third Kickstarter campaign that announced the launch of Pebble 2 did they incorporate fitness. Pebble 2 was slated to have a heart rate monitor. Too little, too late. Pebble 2 units will not be shipped and refunds will be give to the customer that pre-ordered through Kickstarter. This delay is adapting was too costly, when bigger players like Apple launched, they had fitness trackers built into their smart watch. The delay also allowed Fitbit to capture the fitness market with their products that specifically targeted the health buffs.
- The second issue was funding. Having three Kickstarter campaigns – one for each generation of smartwatches was stretching the crowdfunding concept a little too far. Pebble was unsuccessful in raising funds from any external source. Pebble’s debacle will mark a definite dent in the crowdfunding equation. We’ll have to wait and watch how exactly this plays out in terms of trusting future hardware campaigns.
- The third factor was simply an industry requirement, and not something unique to Pebble: the sheer magnitude of R&D involved. It’s easy to want to anticipate market and customer needs, but researching and building technology that support those needs is a different ball game. Big players with deep pockets that have multiple successful product lines can afford this.
- The fourth, and this is perhaps more from customer reviews. People felt that the product appealed to gadget geeks and technology nerds that understood the specifications and the working of the product; and that very little effort was made to reach out to the average Joe. There was also some criticism on the product design failing to appeal to women. But perhaps this was a problem only for the first model, and later versions–esp. the the steel line were sleek and looked good.
As a current fitbit user, and as someone who watched Pebble’s rise with interest and admiration, I am happy that the Pebble team and technology have a new home in fitbit, though there is certainly a feeling of sadness. Pebble chased a much bigger dream, and, for a scrappy startup that came out of nowhere, they got real close to achieving it.