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Pebble Smart Watches

As those of you who follow the tech world have likely heard, Pebble recently went bankrupt (more or less) and had their assets purchased by Fitbit. As a long-time wearer of a Pebble Steel watch, I found it sad that the company went under. I was also surprised at many of the reactions that I saw.

Now, I don’t tend to follow tech news much. Hence, even though it appears that there were a number of murmurings that suggested that the company was in trouble, I found out about it via a notice sent from their Kickstarter [1] account because I’d been a backer of the original Pebble [2]. My first reactions were That’s sad; I really love my Pebbles and Damn! I should have tried to return my malfunctioning Pebble; I guess I’ll have to try to fix it myself.

So, what is a Pebble and why do I care? Pebbles were some of the first smart watches, before there was an Apple watch. They are smart in that you can load programs onto them and that they can communicate with your smart phone. I got mine for the latter reason; it appears that I don’t notice when my phone rings or when I receive texts. (I also turn off the volume on my phone a lot.) The Pebble vibrates in both cases, and it’s hard to ignore a watch vibrating on your wrist. They have a moderately long battery life; usually about seven days.

I’ve never taken much advantage of it, but Pebbles have a fairly open ecosystem. Their software development kit is free, and it’s pretty easy to submit things to their store. So there’s a wide range of apps and watchfaces for the Pebble. When I first got mine, I played with a few things. But these days, I use my Pebble almost exclusively for receiving texts and phone calls, and for the half-decent health tracking that I can do with the Misfit app. (If I could get the calendar working right, I’d use it for that, too.)

I own three Pebble Steel watches. I like the Steel because it looks more professional than the original Pebbles. It has a metal case and leather band, rather than a plastic case and silicon band [4]. The first one Michelle and the kids bought for me for the reason described above: They wanted to be able to reach me. I bought the other two used after my first one started to have trouble (it fuzzes out a lot, which appears to be a common problem) and was out of warranty. I think they were each about $40.00, which seemed reasonable for spares or replacements. I’m currently wearing one right now, and have the other tucked away in a drawer, along with my not-quite-working one. I’m pretty sure that between the three of them, I can keep them going for awhile. We’ll see.

Why do I like the Pebble (or, more precisely, the Pebble Steel)? Because it’s simple, straightforward, and durable, at least as I use it. I don’t care a lot about fancy apps. I want something that looks good, tells me the time, and handles texts. I’m pretty sure that there are newer watches that have similar features, but, until now, my Pebble has been reliable enough that I haven’t looked for anything else.

The Pebble wearers I know seem to be big fans; I assume that it’s for similar reasons, although I expect that someone of them use more apps than I do. I was talking to someone the other day and noticed a Pebble Steel on their wrist. I asked what they thought about the bankruptcy, and they said I’m trying to decide if I should get a Pebble Time Steel [5] before they are no longer available.

I will note that I found that the responses on the Pebble 2 Kickstarter Update bother me. People are upset, but profanity doesn’t fix anything. I’m pretty sure that the folks at Pebble didn’t want to give up on the product. But technology is hard. And, as anyone who funds Kickstarter projects knows, outcomes are often iffy.

I did find the claims in those responses that EU law does not allow a bankrupt company to drop its warranties interesting; I wonder if that’s really the case. My quick Web search revealed some interesting information about consumer protections in the EU. Clearly, consumers have more rights in the EU than in the US, and certainly more than in Iowa. But I’m not sure what those laws do about bankruptcy. Oh well, maybe that’s a subject for further research.

I see that The Register blames Venture Capitalists for Pebble’s failure. But, like many news articles, this one lacks details. Other than knowing that there’s a VC on the board, what evidence do we have that the VC was responsible?

Where else should I go in this pointless, rambling, essay? Ideally, I’d have a big point, such as Just as in the case of Beta vs. VHS, the best technology doesn’t always win or Some people want all of the bells and whistles; I just want something that provides core functionality, has a good UI, and is reliable, or even Sam is a greedy hoarder and probably needs psychiatric help. However, to develop one of those essays, I’d have to think more. Let’s just record this essay in the Sam wrote something today, but no one needs to read it column. And I’ll cross my fingers that my watches keep working.

[1] Kickstarter is an Amazon company in which people with ideas try to get everyday folks to fund those ideas. It’s popular with people designing board games, new technologies, and a variety of other things.

[2] By Backer of the original Pebble, I mean that I contributed one dollar so that I could get their mailings. I didn’t buy my actual Pebble until a year or two later [3].

[3] Arguably, I didn’t buy my first Pebble at all; Michelle and the kids gave it to me as a gift.

[4] Interestingly, in some of the reviews I’ve seen for the Pebble Steel, or at least for the Pebble Time Steel, people seem to prefer silicon bands.

[5] The Pebble Steel is black and white. The Pebble Time Steel is color, and has a voice function of some sort. Amazon currently has new Pebble Steel Watches for about $90 and new Pebble Time Steel Watches for anywhere from about $120 to about $160, depending on the color.

Version 1.0 of 2016-12-10.