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Mismanagement of the Pebble Smartwatch May Have Killed its Chances to Succeed

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Looking over the Pebble launch, I’m astonished to that it’s practically a textbook example of how to bungle the launch of a highly anticipated product. Just about everything that could go wrong, did. Production hadn’t even begun before Christmas (remember, it was supposed to ship to backers in September), the SDK has not yet been sent to developers (supposed to delivered in August) and through all of this, a general lack of communication, which may well be the worst misstep of them all.

In my experience, I received a notification that my Pebble was “ready” and I had 48 hours to confirm my address before it was entered into the database for final shipment. Pretty straightforward. A couple of days later, my Pebble entered the “Processing Shipment” stage, where it stayed for 10 days before I refreshed the page one last time to see the shipment had been sent. No notice, just a USPS tracking number that I wouldn’t have seen had I not gone back to the page to see if it updated.

There were periodic updates but nothing on the scale one would reasonably expect from such a large project. By comparison, another Kickstarter campaign I backed (the only other) has seen 122 updates since June 2011 when it began while Pebble has been updated only 33 times. Yes, the other campaign is 10 months older but it has nearly four times the amount of updates despite seeing far fewer backers and much, much less money pledged.

Though my examples are anecdotal, they’re no less important because, as backers, we’re the investors. We put our money into this to help realize the dream of the folks behind the Pebble project and we have a fully vested interest in seeing it come to fruition. If there are delays, they should tell us. Sure, one could argue that the project got away from them after its popularity exploded but if that happened, they’re sort of obligated to tell us. Take some time, let us know that there are delays and give us a realistic timeframe on when things will be back on track. Even if you miss that date as well, at least the effort to keep us in the loop is there. People will be disappointed – people find ways to be disappointed with anything, even if everything goes smoothly – but not as many as there are now.

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But the main issue many Pebble backers have, myself included, is the lack of communication. After missing their (unrealistic, given how big the project eventually got) September release date, no realistic timeframe was given in the months that followed for when, exactly, we could expect our watches. Even when production and shipment begun, all we have to go on is a website tracking the production status of the Pebbles at large.

Speaking of that website, a similar one parodying it was put up a little while ago, this one about the promised SDK for developers and linking a number of (dead) forum posts documenting the many broken promises of when the SDK was to be delivered. Despite having been promised to certain backers as part of a “Hacker special” including a pre-production test Pebble, a production model and, of course, early access to the Pebble SDK. Now I can’t comment on whether backers have received their production or pre-production Pebbles but now, the SDK is definitely MIA.

Keep in mind that this should’ve been delivered in August. There are late deliveries and, well, there’s this.

For those of you disappointed that none of the promised integration with apps like Runkeeper or custom watch faces are available, this is why. Without the SDK, developers can’t develop any apps with Pebble support in mind and the longer Pebble waits, the longer we have to wait for developers to build apps. If they want to develop for the Pebble at all anymore. I’d imagine several developers who backed the Pebble are quite jaded at this point (check the comments under this post for an example…) and might not even care anymore. This is just one of the many broken promises that has pockmarked the Pebble’s release since its wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.

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Entangled in all of this is the emerging (rather, re-emerging) smartwatch market that Pebble could quite possibly have taken over. Now, there are a number of smartwatches from other manufacturers like Martian Watches and others and the rumors swirling around a possible Apple iWatch threatening Pebble’s dominance in a market that hasn’t begun to flourish. Pebble hasn’t even formally released yet (they’re still taking preorders) and if Apple is able to release a polished, well-executed smartwatch that pairs with the iPhone and iPad, Pebble could end up dead in the water. The Pebble is shipping out to backers but honestly, I think their moment in the sun has passed them by.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing for Pebble’s downfall. I received my watch and I know that my $116 (I pledged 1 dollar above the minimum, yay me) wasn’t wasted. I’m pleased with the product itself at right now but I wish Pebble had handled this better, if only for their sake. Reading the comment threads on the original Kickstarter page and underneath various reviews shows that people aren’t pleased with the way Pebble has handled the campaign, which is likely the result of the massive amount of hype and lofty, perhaps impossible to meet expectations. But this is hardly consequential when even meager expectations aren’t being met. Someone on the Kickstarter page crunched the numbers and found that Pebble is well below their original production and shipping targets and, as has become typical these days, no mention of this has been made. No explanation, no update, we’re just in the dark, as we’ve been far too often throughout this process.

Maybe they weren’t prepared for a venture this large (they did get over 100 times their original amount). Maybe there are some production mishaps. Maybe. But all any of us can do is speculate. And that’s the problem. If Pebble succeeds in spite of this, I’ll probably see it as some sort of miracle. As much as I like the idea of a small upstart standing up to the likes of Apple and possibly Samsung and carving out its own niche as a functional and reasonably priced alternative to watches from the big boys, I just don’t see it happening. If the Pebble launched last year when they were still riding high on the hype train and it was available for sale now, Pebble would’ve been in a good place to capitalize on this growing market. As it stands now, I don’t see that happening and while I think that’s a shame, the Pebble team brought this upon themselves. I can’t sit here and make excuses for their missteps. Or, rather, I’m not going to.

But I’d love to be proven wrong. Heck, I’ll even eat my crow without seasoning or a glass of water to wash it down.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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