Pebble Taken Over By FitBit - Developers & Users Abandoned
Written by Lucy Black
Monday, 12 December 2016
The news that smart watch maker Pebble has been taken over by FitBit might have been good news for developers but it is now clear that the intention is to shut the platform down as soon as possible. So what about developers who put hard work in to make the Pebble attractive to the end user?
Many programmers will remember the Pebble Kickstarter campaign back in 2012 when the lure of the smart watch market was strong. The Apple watch was yet to launch and everything looked super promising.
As we know now, smart watches are the next big thing but Pebble stil had something special with its low power LCD watchface and the ability to create custom faces. The SDK didn't look too difficult and, despite some discomfort caused by non-backward compatible change, Pebble developers seemed happy.
I can remember contemplating the Pebble as a platform to write programs for when it first appeared on Kickstarter, but Android Wear seemed a better bet, even if the market was likely to be overcrowded. I'm now glad I didn't take the time to learn yet another SDK because on Dec 7th Pebble filed for insolvency and was acquired by FitBit.
As already mentioned, this could have been good news - but FitBit has made it clear it only wants the personnel not the hardware. Pebble has announced that it will stop selling and promoting its smart watches. The devices still out in the world will continue to work, they rely on connection to servers provided by Pebble, but the warning on the Kickstarter site is:
Pebble is no longer promoting, manufacturing, or selling any devices.
Pebble devices will continue to work as normal. No immediate changes to the Pebble user experience will happen at this time.
Pebble functionality or service quality may be reduced in the future.
This sounds ominous.
The Pebble blog explains things this way:
"The Pebble SDK, CloudPebble, mobile apps, developer portal, appstore, timeline API, dictation service, messaging service, and firmware will all continue to operate without interruption. Further down the road, we’ll be working to phase out cloud services, providing the ability for the community to take over, where possible."
Which means that after Pebble can not longer support the servers, it is up to some interested third party to step in and do it. This is, I think, the first time that a developer community has been asked to find a way to provide servers for its user base. Given no more Pebble watches are going to be produced, this isn't an obviously attractive proposition. It also highlights the problems inherent in any buying into any connected device that depends on its manufacturers support to continue to work.
As the blog points out:
"You’ve published over 15,000 watchfaces and watchapps, 130 companion apps, created some awesome libraries and packages, and performed 4.6 million builds on CloudPebble! "
That's a lot of work that has just been dumped. Another estimate is that there are 50 million existing users, but this market will be shrinking not growing and, given the way people feel about abandoned products, it will probably shrink quickly.
This is the problem with backing any small enterprise by developing apps for it, but such opportunities are attractive because they let you get in on the ground floor. Apple may be big enough to promise stability but you are in there with lots of other programmers fighting for a slice of the action. Talking of Apple, the chat between Pebble developers on the forum seems remarkable cool and not at all angry. The main sentiment seems to be regret at it passing and a fervent wish not to write programs for Apple. The only suggestion the Pebble blog has is;
"Third-party Pebble developers have a massive opportunity to drive how a Fitbit developer ecosystem will take shape."
Which isn't exactly helpful.
Some are asking for Pebble to open source the OS so that existing devices can be kept working but this isn't likely to happen and if it did the advantages would be small.