It’s official – Fitbit is buying the Kickstarter darling, Pebble, for an undisclosed amount, but is rumored to be less than $40 million – enough to cover the companies debts. The purchase spells the end for Pebble Time 2 watches and their new Pebble Core and as the deal is currently, the Pebble brand. Everyone who backed the Pebble Time 2 Kickstarter will receive a full refund for their undelivered devices, and for the time being, all Pebble software will continue to work.
Fitbit is hiring 40% of the Pebble staff, mainly software engineers, with the other employees getting severance packages. Stock Pebble employees held is worthless, going to pay back all the companies debt. Pebble will stop selling hardware, and they won’t honor any hardware warranties.
Pebble’s death, even if Fitbit decides to revive the brand for their smartwatches, is the end of an era. Pebble was the first smartwatch to get people excited about smartwatches and kickstart (pun intended) the smart watch industry. They launched before the Apple Watch or Android Wear, which they helped push forward. Now, with their death, other smartwatches could go on death watch (aka Moto 360) as consumers shift away from smartwatches towards the Apple Watch or fitness trackers. This isn’t to say fitness trackers are what customers wanted, with many of them buying one and never wearing it more than a couple of months. Pebble even took one last stand with the mindset that health and fitness tracking would be their saving grace, but in fact, it was the death of them. The shift from being a cool, geeky watch band to a fitness brand meant the core fans were left behind. We didn’t have a Pebble Time 2 Round or a Pebble Time 2 Steel. Instead, we got some other watches retooled for fitness tracking. It had all the bells and whistles you’d find on any other smart watch that was fitness focused; heart rate monitor, waterproofing, and a unique tracking software.
While they had the most funded Kickstarter campaigns in the history of the crowdfunding site, they were limiting themselves. There reach of perspective customers was cut in half because Kickstarter has such a bad reputation for failed campaigns or delays for months or years, or even worse cases Kickstarter backers receive their products after they’ve been in retail stores for months (Coolest Cooler). The customers who bought a Pebble were geeky, first adopters and not the mainstream customer Pebble was looking for with their Pebble Time 2 series.
Pebble may be refunding their backers, but without the buyout from Fitbit, they would have run out of money. This could have caused production delays or even them to cancel Pebble Time 2, and they avoided it, but they disappointed long time fans with the consolidation with a struggling fitness tracking company. This death will shape how I think of smartwatches, and ten years from now when smartwatch are popular – I’ll remember how Pebble started all of it. They’ll be the Palm of the smartwatch industry.
Tell us in the comments below – what you think about Fitbit buying Pebble for some employees and intellectual property.