Pebble smartwatches – from rags, to riches, to rags

On 11 April 2012, a company called Pebble launched a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $100,000 for an e-paper smartwatch.

It would have customisable watch faces, work with iPhone and Android smartphones, a long battery life, and would be cheap.

Despite not being first to market, Pebble appeared to have the right mix of features at the right time to get people excited about the concept.

By the end of its first Kickstarter campaign, the original Pebble watch had broken all financing records and shattered its goal – raising over $10 million.

It proved there was a demand for this kind of wearable technology.

The rise

Suddenly, everyone was on the bandwagon.

Pebble and Sony were joined by Samsung, LG, and Motorola in the smartwatch market. Apple was also rumoured to be working on its iWatch at the time.

Huawei launched a watch, Garmin launched a range of activity-tracker smartwatches, and luxury brands started delivering their versions of a connected timepiece.

In April 2015, Apple finally entered the fray with its Apple Watch.

Despite the increased competition, Pebble wasn’t a one-hit wonder.

On 24 February 2015, it launched a new Kickstarter for two new watches: the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel.

It smashed its previous Kickstarter record and passed a new record set by the Coolest Cooler, raising over $20 million.

Even its last-ditch effort in 2016 to raise the money it needed to stay afloat and launch the Pebble 2, Pebble Time 2, and Pebble Core did well by Kickstarter standards, raising almost $13 million.

Pebble watch

The Fall

Although the Kickstarter campaign for the Pebble Time was a success, the company was burning through cash.

It raised a further $26 million in debt and venture capital, but it wasn’t enough to keep all its employees.

In March 2016, Pebble announced it would retrench 25% of its workers – 40 staff.

Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky said venture capital money in Silicon Valley had become tight, which is why they initiated layoffs.

“We want to be careful. Pebble is in this for the long haul. We have a vision where wearables will take us in five to 10 years, and this is setting us up for success,” said Migicovsky.

Pebble planned to focus on health and fitness features and was set to sell devices in India through a partnership with Amazon.

Before the money problems, Citizen reportedly offered to buy Pebble for $740 million, an industry source told Engadget.

The source said even after the poor performance of the Pebble Time Round, Intel also offered to acquire it for $70 million.

However, Pebble would have to suspend the launch of the Pebble 2, Pebble Time 2, and Pebble Core Kickstarter campaign. Pebble declined.

Sold for parts

What followed was Pebble being sold for parts.

Fitbit recently bought Pebble for under $40 million, which was reportedly not enough to cover its debts.

Pebble’s assets, including product inventory and server equipment, would be sold separately.

No more Pebble devices will be manufactured. Devices already sold will continue to function, but will not be covered by a warranty.

Pebble also warned customers that although its user experience will continue with Fitbit, the functionality of its smartwatches may be reduced in future.

The end of Pebble is not the end of the smartwatch, but it does come at a tough time for the wearable business.

Seen as the “next big thing” in consumer technology, most wearables and smartwatches have failed to deliver the profits needed to drive the growth spurt the sector was hoping for.

Now read: Your fitness tracker is not making you fat

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Pebble smartwatches – from rags, to riches, to rags