Official: Pebble Ceases Hardware Production

Today Pebble has announced that it will cease all hardware production. Their outstanding Kickstarter deliveries will not be fulfilled but refunds will be issued. Warranties on all existing hardware will no longer be honored. However, the existing smartwatch service will continue… for now.

This isn’t unexpected, we ran an article yesterday about the all-but-certain rumors FitBit had acquired Pebble (and what led to that). Today’s news has turned speculation about Pebble 2 and Pebble Core Kickstarter campaigns into reality. You won’t get your hands on that fancy new hardware, but at least backers will have the money returned.

Perhaps the most interesting part of today’s blog post from the founder of Pebble, Eric Migicovsky, is about how this impacts more than a million watches already in the wild. Service will continue but (wait for it) “Pebble functionality or service quality may be reduced in the future.”

It’s not like this is a unique problem. Devices purchased by consumers that are dependent on phoning home to a server to function is a mounting issue. Earlier this year [Elliot Williams] coined this issue “Obsolescence as a Service” which is quite fitting. Anyone who still has a functional first generation iPad has enjoyed reduced quality of service; without available upgrades, you are unable to install most apps. It’s zombie hardware; electrons still flow but there’s no brain activity.

One of the perks associated with FitBit acquiring Pebble is that they have decided to keep those servers running for watches in the field. A cynic might look at the acquisition as FitBit reducing competition in the market — they wouldn’t have let hardware production cease if they were interested in acquiring the user base. At some point, those servers will stop working and the watches won’t be so smart after all. FitBit owns the IP which means they could open source everything needed for the community to build their own server infrastructure. When service quality “reduced in the future” that’s exactly what we want to see happen.

31 thoughts on “Official: Pebble Ceases Hardware Production

  1. They need to open-source it now so that the community can start working on it, not wait until the community starts dieing off to pass along a zombie.

    But the fact that they are shutting everything down and cancelling warranties (can they legally do that??) shows that they have no interest in doing anything other than making the existing users angry.

    It’s actually hard to believe that Pebble is worth the $40M (or whatever) that they paid for it if they are going to abandon the hardware and trash the userbase. It’s not like all these users are going to rush out and buy fitbits in gratitude now.

    1. It’s not likely that all of these users are going to go out and buy anything anytime soon. They already have the hardware in hand. But a lot of early adopters were singing praises about the Pebble 2 that included Heart Rate monitoring. That pushes into FitBit’s market and if Pebble was already looking to sell (I don’t know for sure this was the case) it made for willing business partners on both sides.

    2. Regarding the warranties .. fitbit haven’t bought pebble. They’ve bought their IP, and extended job offers to a percentage of their staff. This means fitbit haven’t acquired any of pebble’s liabilities. So Pebble (the company) is a gutted insolvent husk, that’ll be pecked clean to recover anything possible for their debts owed .. and then most likely cease trading entirely.

      That’s how they can stop honouring warranties – Pebble (the company) will start off being unable to, and finish off not existing.

  2. “FitBit owns the IP which means they could open source everything needed for the community to build their own server infrastructure. When service quality “reduced in the future” that’s exactly what we want to see happen.”

    That simply won’t happen. FitBit already has a history of shoddy support for older (like 2 year old) products. They recently let customers complain for A YEAR with no help because the FitBit Ultra stopped working after an OSX upgrade. Their support team kept saying “our engineers are working on it, be patient, have you tried reinstalling?” over and over. I ran across this late in the game and solved the problem in 30 minutes by extracting files from the install tool, discovering they were using an ancient Silabs CP2102 driver, and replacing it with a newer driver. Their engineer never looked at the problem, if they refused to support the product for a year when I was able to solve it from a cold start…knowing nothing about the hardware…in 30 minutes.

    We can hope that the Pebble team will inject some competence into the FitBit team, but I’m going to remain cynical about that likelihood.

    1. Why is it fitbit’s problem if Apple keep breaking stuff with updates? Seems to me apple break other manufactures devices with updates but not theirs.

      Props on the fix though, did you post it on the forums for others? :)

      1. Apple loves to break 3rd party software with OS updates. Every System/Mac OS update between 7.5 and 7.5.5 broke compatibility with quite a lot of hardware and software. Radius got so fed up with Apple they quit the Mac market. There’s a bunch of old Radius hardware that can’t be used, or doesn’t fully function past 7.5.2 or 7.5.3.

        Jump Development created a memory management replacement far superior to what Apple had. Unlike various other 3rd party software that Apple bought and assimilated, the company concentrated on breaking RAM Charger with every new Mac OS version, until Jump Dev. threw in the towel. RAM Charger only fully functions through 8.1. It will function on 8.5 and 8.6, but only the core function of RAM defragmenting and automatic per-program size adjustment. I don’t remember if that still worked with 9.x. At any rate, Apple chose to try and kill it off instead of licensing or outright buying a technology superior to their own.

        More recently, look at what goes buh-bye with every new OS X release. Meanwhile, Windows 10 will run on damn near any PC from 2005~2006 and up, possibly some even older.

        The classic example of Apple’s greed shooting themselves was Unitron. Until 1992, Brazil banned imports of computers. That led to a huge market for apple ][ clones designed and built in Brazil. Unitron was the biggest and best. After the Macintosh debut in 1984, Unitron apparently smuggled one in and proceeded to do a reverse engineering project similar to how Compaq cloned the IBM PC.

        Apple didn’t like that and somehow got the US government to threaten to put big import taxes on Brazilian fruit products if they didn’t squish Unitron.

        What Apple should have done was licensed Unitron to be their South American manufacturer for the Macintosh, and a R&D center. But instead Apple’s bullheaded greed handed a huge market to PC clones. Think how much bigger Apple would be now if South Americans had been able to get all the Macintoshes (without smuggling) from 1984-1992.

      2. I did post the fix on the forums, and many people successfully used it.

        I’m not sure if I was entirely clear on the nature of the problem, so let me explain it further. Apple’s OSX upgrade was in beta for six month before it was launched, during which time most other hardware providers successfully resolved any issues. Given that Fitbit advertises Mac compatibility, it was their responsibility to test and resolve a problem, or else notify customers that Mac is no longer supported. They did neither, and the problem only appeared after users upgraded their operating system and found that the Fitbit Ultra syncing didn’t work.

        This is almost understandable if a hardware company is doing something difficult that touches a lot of OS-specific stuff. However, Fitbit’s actual software was NOT broken by the OS update. What stopped working was a Silabs driver that Fitbit was bundling with their software. Silabs, as a responsible hardware manufacturer, already had versions of their driver that worked with the upgraded OS with no issues.

        So, Fitbit obviously took the laziest possible approach. They 1) did not test their software on a Mac during the OS upgrade beta, 2) did not test their software on a Mac after the actual release, 3) did not test their software on a Mac after customers complained it did not work, 4) did not investigate why it wouldn’t work, 5) couldn’t come up with a fix that was as simple as replacing a single driver (that they didn’t even write) in their software installer. Complete incompetence and Apple is not to blame here.

    2. Agreed, FitBit sucks. Their support/warranty/customer service sucks. Nothing like dropping $100 on a Christmas gift and having it flat out stop working correctly 8 months later, with repeated attempts at getting any sort of support or satisfaction given the cold shoulder or brushed away with hollow claims of “we’re working on it and we’ll let you know when it’s fixed”.

      It seems that FitBit saw dissatisfaction in parts of its user base and decided that the best way to fix this was to simultaneously remove an alternate option from their own potentially-defecting customers and remove a competitive option from the market entirely. Moves such as those tell me everything I need to know about the condition of the company… and I can guarantee that I’ll be doing no further business with them. They can go rot.

  3. I think one of the best possible outcomes is that some intrepid hardware hacker (or team) reverse engineers the firmware and designs an open source replacement.

    I’m an owner of a second hand Pebble Steel and Pebble Time. I love them both, though my Steel died from the screen tearing problem, and my fix ended up leaving it vulnerable to water ingress. My Time is still chugging along great, and I hope to get at least a couple more years out of it.

    The internal battery is simple enough that I think it could be commissioned from a small battery house if needed (probably require a group buy effort though).

    The biggest issue would be the loss of some of the features that require the Pebble servers. The voice dictation and timeline features require the Pebble servers. To me, that’s not a great loss, as I never used either of those features. My biggest use case is notifications (so I don’t have to get my phone out), the ability to respond with canned messages (to txts, calls, and Hangouts msgs), sleep and step tracking, and the 3rd party OTP code generator (compatible with Google Auth like services).

  4. Why kill the service aspect right away when you can choke it off slowly while telling current users they upgrade to a new product? In other words don’t piss off the user base so that they boycott you in the future.

  5. Have to say, my fitbit HR is, for me, the best ‘smart watch’ that I have seen. The battery lasts for days, it is so comfortable I can wear it at night. I have CF and it has been a great help in managing my exercise and sleeping patterns which help to keep my lungs clear.

    The alarm and call notification features are excellent. The alarm turns it self off when I add holidays to my calendar. All very cool.

    Only time will tell how long it’ll remain working………..

    For now, I am happy with it. :)

    1. The pebble battery lasts for 7-10 days and has all the power of your phone to decide what to do. That’s why many of us consider it the best smart watch around, even though it’s got less compute power and no touchscreen compared to others.

  6. My oldest son said he only wanted a pebble and I have been trying to convince him to just get a smart watch.
    Now I win. and can tell him I told you so.
    You should never buy anything that is controlled by the internet and I keep telling people that.
    But most of the time they laugh at me and say I don’t know what I’m talking about.
    Here is another check mark on my list of devices that had gone to the wast because it had to call home as one of you guys said earlier.

    1. Care to name the Smart Watches out there that don’t call home?

      You’re kid said he wanted a Pebble. You said he should get a “Smart Watch”. You didn’t realise that the Pebble falls into that category. The people saying you don’t know what you’re talking about… They’re right.

    2. The Pebble *is* a smart watch.

      To take the approach of “winning” against your own kid and being able to tell him “I told you so”… Very mature.

      As for everything else you said, the people that told you you didn’t know what you were talking about… They were right.

      Do you have a list of smart watches that aren’t “controlled by the internet”?

  7. This is almost as much fun as when nVidia bought 3DFX … …. remember how they surprised everyone with the Voodoo 5 6000 when everyone thought they’d shitcanned everything? …… Yeah, they didn’t.

    1. The GeForce 5000 series was just 3Dfx’s final design, finished out. Wasn’t all that hot of a GPU but nVidia committed to fixing it as much as they could with the drivers. By the time the 5000 series went EOL nVidia had them working pretty decently, especially the later revisions that benefited more from nVidia doing their own design changes.

      1. lol WHAT? :))
        Maybe you should tell that to Gary Tarolli, you know, the guy who designed 3DFX chips and later moved to Nvidia? Because that would be news to him.
        The ONLY thing Nvidia actually used from 3dfx acquisition was SLI branding (tech is entirely different) and engineers.

  8. There’s already an open-source smartphone app designed to run the thing w/o Pebble servers:

    https://github.com/Freeyourgadget/Gadgetbridge

    Now is the time to see what help we can give to this project. There’s lots more stuff to be done (voice response, for starters) that I think they have clues about (getting a speex stream form the watch, for instance) but lots of dev needs to be done.

    I’ve spent some time today downloading firmware image files as well as PBW files for all the apps and watchfaces I use. You can download the PBW file from their pages by appending some URL parameters:

    ?hardware=basalt&platform=android&query=&dev_settings=true&is_browser=true

    Substitute your device class (aplite, basalt, chalk, etc.) in hardware. With these options, a DOWNLOAD PBW link appears magically. The whole thing is JS driven.

    I’m not sure what this means for the future of smartwatches. Seems dim to me, personally. I guess I’ll have to see what happens between now and whenever my Pebble Time watch finally dies.

    1. I like the idea of this, but I wish the project would get forked by someone a little less dogmatic. The reason voice doesn’t work is because it would require them to send the voice stream off the phone and they refuse to support doing that.

      I understand their reasons, I just wish they weren’t willing to abandon such useful features in the name of privacy.

      IMHO, modularizing the code that goes to the Internet to get the transcription done so that it can use one of multiple systems would be a reasonable option.

      They could even have it disabled by default.

      But the attitude of “I disagree with this so I won’t let you do it” is rather annoying

  9. How can they legally dishonor the warranties immediately? I thought there was a law that required companies to honor warranties for a certain amount of time after EOL. Or was I wrong/it only applies to certain things?

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