Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Pebble

Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, television was in black and white, and politicians didn't Tweet nude photos of themselves I backed a Kickstarter campaign called Pebble. The Pebble is a watch that synchs with you smart phone's Bluetooth, and delivers emails, phone call ID, and text messages.  As we all know by now the campaign became Kickstarters most successful campaign to date.

I love Kickstarter.  I have invested and continue to do so in many of the enterprises posted there.  Not only is Kickstarter a superb platform for young companies to get their idea off the ground, but it encourages creative thinking and problem solving. Someone who might have sat on an idea, now has a launch pad to not only try and raise money on an idea, but see the public's appetite for that idea.

Pebble was the ultimate success story.  To date they have shipped over 93,000 Pebbles to 150 countries.  Understandably the scale of their success took the young company by surprise.  They instantly had production problems and logistic problems.  It took a year for my Pebble to ship to me, and after giving that first one to my nephew, I ordered a "pre-order" Pebble for me.  That still hasn't arrived.  What did happen though is that Pebble did a deal with Best Buy to distribute Pebbles.  This has pissed a lot of people on the waiting list off that they would release inventory to the public before fulfilling the remaining 182,000 units, me being one of them.  It clear to say that Eric Migocovsky
and his young management team are trying to keep their heads above water and are not necessarily making the smartest decisions. 

On a whim I ventured into Best Buy yesterday in Manhattan.  They had one Pebble left. It was the last one from  a shipment of 30 watches they had received the previous afternoon.  This is quite impressive, think about it.  a product launched exclusively online with no marketing what so ever sold out their inventory of 30 units within a day in one store, and apparently has been doing so in all stores ever since they started receiving units on July 8th.  The Pebble costs $150, so did Best Buy sell 30 pairs of $150 headphones within a day, or UP bands from Jawbone...I doubt it.  There is definitely an interest in wearable technology, it can't all be early adopter geeks like me.

So what's it like.  I'll break it down into different categories.

Construction:  It feels cheap.  It is plastic, lightweight and feels cheaper than a Swatch.  It is water resistant but not recommended to be worn in hot water, so don't take a bath or shower. It is rated for freshwater and saltwater so you can swim but don't dive with it.  The case is shiny plastic so waiting for the first scratches. The strap a cheap matt rubber.  The buttons on the side feel particularly cheap to the touch.  If Apple has designed this it would feel substantive and of high quality, you notice things like this when you wear it.

Design:  It's not a small watch, (it has to house a lot of stuff), so on my looks OK, but if my wife were to wear one it would look like a Gigantor had lent her his watch.

It has a smart clean look, but again not s sophisticated as one if Apple or samsung had designed it.

Setting up:  The online instructions were complicated and clunky.  It IS easy to setup, but at the same time you find yourself jumping from screen to screen in their app trying to source information on why certain things didn't happen the way they ere meant to.

Synching with an iPhone:  I was able to synch texts immediately, caller ID doesn't work properly, the phone number comes up but no name, which is the main function. It took me into the night to have email synching and to be honest it just started working which makes no sense, but now it does synch with all my accounts and I must say this is the best part of the watch. The watch immediately synched with my iPod/Music on my iPhone and that's a cool feature.  Some of the third party apps do not work as advertised, but as they're freeware, nothing to shout about.

Watch faces: There are a great and ever increasing selection of cool watch faces that you can easily down load.  I have already downloaded seven.

Alerts: The watch alerts you to an incoming message or email by vibrating.  this is really useful as it makes no noise and I can now turn the ringer off on my phone, which pleases my wife immensely.  The alarm also works on vibration and it does wake you up.

Overall this is an exciting product development.  I liken it to when streaming video hit the internet.  Most people had a dial up connection or if they were posh a DSL, and streaming video was in a tiny little player at 4 frames a second.  It was exciting, didn't quite work as advertised, but the potential was huge.  People are going to want to wear and use wearable technology.  This is the tiny rough end of a huge iceberg, it is cool, but what's to come is larger and a lot cooler. One thing I have noticed since synching is an increase in battery drain and my iPhone is a lot hotter than it was, if it explodes I'll let you know.  The Pebble is cool, it will get better.  I predict by the end of the year Apple will at least announce their wearable iWatch, and Samsung also. They will look and feel better than the Pebble and that unfortunately will kill the Pebble business. But for the moment, they own this space, and I think what they have produced is a market changer.


  1. As one of the 1st funders for the project, I got in on day 3 and was a very low number on the backers list. You should check out for more watch faces + games. They have Tetris, Space Invaders, and Parachute ports for your fancy.

    Best Buy partnership:
    You are not at a loss for anything if your BB got watches before your pre-order came. Pebble never charged you. They had to go to BB when told to jump, or miss out on opportunities for placement in a big box. As for remaining Kickstarters who have not received their watches yet, it is for colors not released to BB now. Black was sent to BB 1st as it was the 1st color produced, then red, for which there was the least amount of KS requests making it a LE. That is the one I chose and received. Grey and white were the next 2 to leave the plant. Fulfillment has been completed for grey + white and finished up in the past week. Orange, a voter's choice, was the last in the KS pile, and was placed in back of the line.

    What caused Pebble's delays?
    To start, the original idea was to have all of the watch made and assembled in the States, but due to the overflow of support, the plans had to be changed, moving manufacturing to Dragon Innovation in China, and the plastics were made in Taiwan. Software dev remained in Palo Alto, as well as R&D. Apple has been unwilling to release APIs for the iOS platform, giving the developers crap for integration as they've had to use 3rd party and open source solutions. This would be part of your issue. Check the Pebble Forums at for updates. There have been many software revs for both iOS + Android. Android doesn't have many issues because their APIs are always open source.

    Manufacturing issues:
    On Chinese New Year, manufacturing was shut down for 2 weeks while making black watches. It took that long just to get the line up to full speed. There were also problems with the water seal glue, which was switched 3 times due to waviness in the watch screens. When they did color testing, the plastic densities differed and produced stretch marks while being cast. While all of the testing was being done, KSters began asking for goal perks. The original watch was never to have low power BT4.0, LEDs, or waterproofing. These were all added as the project was being set up in China.

    Distribution woes:
    These started when customs in many countries kept sending back shipments. Germany has been a royal PITA for Pebble, and they just got cleared. Some watches shipped DOA, so a system had to be made for RMAs. The process caused lots of delays. Then, a bad software patch went out that rendered watches unrecoverable from a power off. These are all things you come to assume when you are an early adopter.

    All of these things add up. BB was a God send to Pebble as it validated their efforts. Don't hate on Pebble for wanting to get their name out, as they did at CES in Vegas. Without their name in the open, the Apples and Microsofts of the world would have killed them.

    Alternatives to the Pebble that are also hyped up:
    1) The SONY Smartwatch... already on its 2nd rev, the thing is horrible at display res, has bad screen door effect, and is ultra laggy on touch screen responses, leading the customer to give up when the idiots behind the Style counters have no answers for even basic watch functions.

    2) The MetaWatch... another KS project that flamed due to poor software design and a lack of open source app makers. This was a union between TI and Fossil when Fossil wanted out of the smartwatch arena to focus on their mainline products.

    3) The ImWatch... a cheaply made pile of crap, also pitched on KS, with a crashy OS, and no apps.

    4) The Cookoo Watch... mostly an analog watch with a tiny LCD to display icons of phone alerts.

    With this being said, until Apple gets out of vaporware mode with this iWatch they are hastily trying to trademark, service mark, and copyright across the world, Pebble is the winner, hands down.

  2. Correction:, not