What a disappointment for the pioneer in wearable technology. My Pebble Time Steel is on my wrist every day. I like it when my watch vibrates when my phone is ringing and when I receive a text message. In crowded places when you can’t hear your cellular device ring and can’t feel it vibrate — there’s nothing more useful than the vibration notification on your arm. Pebble’s tool pre-dates Apple WatchOS.
Pebble reminds me of the dot-com 1990s. A KickStarter success story, Pebble shipped more than 2 million watches around the world. Flying on top of the world as a wearable tech leader, Pebble turned down a $740 million offer from old-school watchmaker Citizen in 2015. Later, Intel offered to buy Pebble for $70 million. (The 90% decline in valuation was a harbinger of the north winds yet to come.) Ultimately, in a fire sale for about $35 million, FitBit purchased some of Pebble’s assets and its remaining business. How deja vu. I rode the tide of so many idea-to-billions-to-nothing cool tech companies during the Bubble that burst in 2000. Now, 16 years later, the song remains the same.
One of the reasons developers, makers and enthusiasts liked Pebble was that it ran open source software. Pebble’s platform was easy to build apps on, and in my experience, the apps ran quickly and smoothly. Unfortunately one of the downsides to open source code is that by definition is cannot be owned by anyone. The source code is in the public domain; good for developers and consumers but bad for investors. For Pebble, this means that there is no proprietary code that can be sold. Its cool technology is out there for the taking. Pebble does not own any code or apps that it can sell in liquidation.
Why did Pebble fail? Probably for the same reason that some great companies like Kodak failed. Was Kodak a camera (hardware) company? Was it a film (software) company? Or was it an image company (the Kodak moment, Simon and Garfunkel’s Kodachrome song)? Lesson learned: You cannot rest your company’s laurels on its past success. New products that are nothing more than newer, smarter versions of prior products are not going to stop large companies with greater resources from passing you by on the highway to success. Another lesson learned: You can’t lose sight of your company’s self-identity. Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow.
Pebble’s warranty is void. I hope my watch will never need repair. It’s been great for a long time.