Opinion: Pebble was always going to be sold, it was just a matter of time
I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t have a time machine, and I don’t have superpowers, but I saw this coming. By this I mean the potential purchase of Pebble by anyone. Back in March, when I wrote my review of the ASUS ZenWatch 2 and proclaimed it the best entry into Android Wear, there was another Pebble news event, which also happened to occur as I was writing that article. Pebble announced that they would be laying off 25% of their staff. I’ve been through layoffs before. Layoffs usually (but not always) mean financial problems. These financial problems usually lead to the company being purchased by another company.
Pebble, which pretty much launched the whole smartwatch craze in 2012 with the original Pebble, went back to where it all began and launched a new campaign on Kickstarter in May 2016 for their next generation watch. The demand was definitely there. Pebble raised over $1M within one-hour of launching the campaign. The campaign ended with over $12M pledged and over 66,000 backers. It’s obvious they had a following.
I work for a large retail store (not the one from Arkansas). We stock Pebble watches, along with a few Android Wear watches, the Apple Watch, and FitBits. Very few people came in asking for Pebbles and the other watches. They did come into purchase the FitBits. The average consumer wasn’t interested in smartwatches. Smartwatches were for techies and techies don’t tend to come to big retail stores for their tech when they can simply order online.
Smartwatches were marketed to a very specific audience and not everyone in that audience feels that smartwatches are a necessity. I know many people in the tech community that don’t wear smartwatches.
Pebble is a company that exists to market just one thing. That one thing is a product that carries the name of the company (or the company carries the name of the product). There are several Pebble models — OG Pebble, Pebble Time, Pebble Time Round, Pebble Steel — but at the end of the day, they’re all Pebbles.
There’s a guy here in my town, who made a product and got on the TV show, “Shark Tank.” The sharks decided not to invest. His company exists only to market one item. But after “Shark Tank” he had much success. Even though the sharks turned him down, the fact that he was on TV generated a lot of buzz, but then the buzz dies down. He has to come up with a new model of his product every year in order to renew the buzz. I realize that this guy isn’t Pebble, but it’s the same thing. He’s targeting a specific market. No one other than this specific market is interested in his product.
Pebble started delivering the Pebble 2 family of watches in October. Some retail stores started receiving the Pebble 2 in November. Then something happened — Black Friday. Pebble sold their product for $30-$40 (depending on the model) below the MSRP. They also sold it for less than the price Kickstarter backers paid for the product. I was really surprised by this move. Why would they sell a product that received over 66,000 “pre-orders” on Kickstarter for $30-$40 less than the price everyone else just paid? I don’t know the timeframe and deadlines involved to get a products pricing in place for Black Friday. There were several retailers that were all selling the Pebble watches at the same price and only at Black Friday and CyberMonday. This deal could potentially have been in the works since they launched the campaign in May. If not May, then possibly sometime this summer. I didn’t really think of this as a potential fire-sale. It didn’t set off any flags for me. I just thought it was potentially a marketing thing. I thought it was just a way for Pebble to get their watches in the hands of more people. After all, if more people are using Pebble, then that’s good for Pebble. It may also be good for a possible buyer of Pebble (the company, not the product).
Then it happened. Only a few days after Cyber Monday, it’s reported that Pebble will be bought out by Fitbit. It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s also been said that Fitbit wants to put an end to Pebble. I don’t know why FitBit would want to do that. Okay, well, yeah, Pebble is starting to enter Fitbit’s territory with health monitoring, but Fitbit could potentially roll the technology behind Pebble into the next Fitbit Blaze (Fitbit’s attempt at a smartwatch). It’s very obvious by the numbers over at Kickstarter that Pebble has a large and loyal following. If Fitbit made a new watch with Pebble technology, those Pebble Peeps would be purchasing Fitbits.
The Pebble community is not happy about this. If the news had come out just 30-days earlier, I probably would not have purchased a Pebble watch right now. There are Pebble products that were announced with the Kickstarter campaign in May that were supposed to be delivered in November. The products haven’t been released. There were other products that were supposed to be released in January. It’s possible that these products may never see the light of day. However, the company should be releasing details soon on what lies in store for its current and to-be-released products.
Could it be that the reign of smartwatches are over? Google has announced the next version of its Android Wear OS won’t be released until sometime in 2017. Motorola and other Android Wear watch manufacturers have announced that they will have no new watches. Asus seems to be the only Android Wear OEM releasing an updated product.
I should add that not everyone wants a fitness tracker. I certainly don’t. It’s nice to know how many steps I’ve taken in a day, but if I wanted to know more than that, I guess I would have purchased a Fitbit.