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Pebble Swallowed by Fitbit: What You Need to Know

Dan Tynan

For the Pebble smartwatch, time has finally run out.

Fitbit has acquired Pebble's software assets and most of its engineering team, but has no plans to build new hardware.

Anyone who pledged $69 or more for the Time 2, Core, or Time Round models via last May's Kickstarter campaign will automatically receive full refunds. The company says refunds will be distributed by December 20.

Fitbit's acquisition of Pebble Technology Corp.'s software draws to a close one of the more iconic chapters in tech history. Pebble was the most successful crowdfunded product of all time, raising some $43 million across three Kickstarter campaigns and selling more than 2 million units.

Fans loved it because it was well-designed, less expensive than other smartwatches, and a pioneer in the category.

But in the tech business, it's not how you start that matters, it's how you finish. And this ending is not pretty.

Will Pebble Watches Still Work?

Yes, for the foreseeable future. But you won't be seeing any software upgrades or getting warranty support for it. If your Pebble Watch malfunctions, you'll have to seek guidance from the Pebble support pages and user forums. According to the company, replacement charging cables and accessories will still be available from third-party stores such as GadgetWraps and Clockwork Synergy.

To get the most from your Pebble, the company advises users to upgrade to the latest firmware and mobile app available on the iTunes and Google Play stores. Eventually, however, as new versions of mobile operating systems appear, the app's functionality will be reduced or stop working altogether, and your smart watch will get a lot less intelligent.

Why Did Pebble Fail?

It wasn't for lack of quality. The Pebble series of smart watches won scores of awards from industry publications, as well as Consumer Reports. The Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel were both recommended as Best Buys in the organization's smartwatch Ratings, garnering excellent scores for ease of interaction, ease of pairing, and water resistance.

Everyone who owned a Pebble loved it, says Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst with Creative Strategies. "But they were all very techie," she says. "I just don't think Pebble ever made it to mainstream consumers."

Are Smartwatches Dead?

Probably not, but they might be on life support. According to figures released by research firm IDC, smartwatch sales dropped by more than 50 percent over the summer. Meanwhile, lower cost fitness trackers like the Fitbit Flex continue to sell reasonably well, accounting for some 85 percent of the wearable technology market.

And as fitness trackers add smartwatch-like functions such as notifications and third-party mobile apps—they already tell time—the lines between the two products blur.

Apple CEO Tim Cook claims that Apple Watch sales are "off the charts," but the company has yet to release any actual sales figures for its wearable, which first went on sale in April 2015.

Milanesi says smart watches aren't dead, but technology companies need to do a better job of educating consumers about the differences between sophisticated smart watches and much simpler fitness bands.

"There is room between where Fitbit is today and where Apple wants to be," she says.

The good news? In a few years your Pebble watch will likely be a collector's item, like the Palm Pilot or the Apple Newton MessagePad.



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