About four years ago, a friend passed along a link to a Kickstarter for a new kind of watch along with a note saying “I think you’ll like this.” The device, named Pebble, was going to be a “smart watch” capable of getting emails and text messages and anything else your phone might receive.
An eternal gadget geek, I was hooked. It was Dick Tracy’s wrist radio come to life and the fact that it was a $119 Kickstarter special made it even more enticing—the price was right and the ability to participate in a crowd-funded start-up seemed pretty cutting edge.
In February 2013 the watch finally arrived and has not left my wrist since. I realize I am in the minority on this: smart watches have been slow to take off and most people don’t see the value in them.
For me, however, the value was immediate. As a media analyst, I am frequently moving from client to client, meeting people for lunch or coffee so they can download me on what their company is up to. When I’m with them, I need to give them my undivided attention. That means I can’t take my phone out of my pocket every time it makes a noise or vibrates. It also means that sometimes I miss the text from my 3PM asking if I can move the meeting to 2:30.
The Pebble solved all this. First off, I could, I quickly learned, limit the accounts whose notifications showed up on my wrist, so that only my work account and my kids got through. Then I could quickly glance at my wrist and see if the email said “Great meeting you too!” or “Can we move our call to 3:30?” Same way I could look at my wrist and see if the phone call was from a wrong number or from one of my kids.
Granted, there were, especially that first year, plenty of times when the person I was talking to caught me stealing glances as my watch and asked me if I was in a rush or needed to go. That actually opened up a great line of conversation where I could explain about the watch, why I liked it, explain how the internet of things was coming and what it likely meant for them and their company. (Well, most of the time. Other times, I think they just rolled their eyes and thought “Wow, this guy is a major geek!”)
Over the years I came to rely on the Pebble and feel almost naked without it. The convenience of not having to pull the phone out of my pocket was liberating.
In 2015, Apple introduced their long-awaited iWatch, but I wanted no part of it. First off, it’s never a good idea to buy version 1.0 of any new technology. Secondly, the additional features just weren’t all that compelling. I didn’t want to be able to reply to texts on my watch or get phone calls. I just wanted to see what the messages were or who was calling.
Life was good for my and my Pebble and I was contemplating treating myself to a new one this year when disaster struck: on December 7th, Pebble sold the company to Fitbit, which promptly discontinued all sales, treating the purchase of Pebble as more of an acquihire for the engineering team.
Like many loyal Pebble users, I was devastated. The watch is now like a patient with a terminal illness—it will continue to work with the existing Pebble software until it doesn’t, until an Apple iOS update makes the software obsolete. At which point I’ll be forced to buy an Apple watch. I’ve already started looking at styles and colors.
But here’s to you Pebble. You made the internet of things happen. You were Alexa’s older cousin, the prototype for how the IoT can make people’s lives easier. Even in the face of non-believers.
Smart watches may not be for everybody. But they sure are for me. So stay golden Pebble. And know you’ll always have a special place in my heart.