Why the Pebble e-ink watch failed

Originally published at: Why the Pebble e-ink watch failed | Boing Boing


I discovered Pebble because someone used a typeface I designed for a custom watchface for the Pebble.

Unfortunately, my Pebble stopped being useful for replying to text and chat messages once the services got turned off after it got sold.

I ended up buying a new smartwatch with the NFC feature I wanted and used one of my other typefaces for a custom watchface.


I liked the concept of the Pebble from the start but i feared that over time bigger players would just be able to stay relevant just from sheer power of name brand recognition and money.

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I don’t wear a wrist watch, but I tried (was gifted) an apple watch. After I turned off every annoying nagging feature I was left with … a wrist watch. And I don’t wear a wrist watch. Returned.


The Pebble was really a turning point for me in ADHD management; it really enabled me to set a scheduling process that would remind me of what I needed with only touching the time management system once. It probably is one of the biggest contributors to me surviving grad school.

Bit fortuitous that I only picked it up to familiarize myself with the form factor for research design.


Not sure some the 200 words that followed really counted as a “tl;dr”, but it was a nice thought.

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Aww. Harsh.

I worked for Canon in the early 90’s. This was before the phone became the universal portable piece of technology. We were experimenting with different formats, including a watch, a wallet, a calculator (not the mobile phone shape of the day), a pen. I wore a Casio multi-function watch so got the watch. I wore a Seiko (?) PC watch that ran Japanese DOS to see what inspiration comes. Good times.

This sort of thing has a tiny success window to hit. You have to have something technical but also personal like a fountain pen glasses, or a leather wallet. Steve Jobs’ Apple managed it, but they had a huge war chest, and could make mistakes. They would have laughed off having $20M overspend in the warehouse. You have to go for the big success: other tech companies are watching, learn from your mistakes, and make a better product from the next generation of components the moment you relax. Winner takes all says the market: no points for a ‘jolly good try’.

Which is a shame. Because it seems like a ‘jolly good try’ to me.


right? it seemed to me that they did manage to put a good product out there. business is hard.

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The article seems like a lot of self-flagellation over something that couldn’t have turned out differently. It’s telling that he spends a lot of time talking about Y Combinator and barely mentions the Apple Watch.

It’s a common feature of brainwashing cults that you’re made to criticise yourself and explain your failings in terms of how you strayed from the cult’s teachings. In the real world, Pebble had a good early-adopter product and was then crushed by Apple entering their market. But this explanation is obviously forbidden in Y-Combinator-thought, where I guess failure means you fell short morally and don’t deserve Paul Graham’s love.

It reminds me of crypto bros going on about “grindset” and “WAGMI”. People will believe anything, if it tells them life isn’t a lottery where the previous winners hold most of the tickets.


I love the honesty and retrospection here. One thing that is interesting to me is that they took several iterations to really identify who their customers were and what they wanted. That isn’t uncommon at all. Twitter started out as “Odeo” a podcast discovery site. Instagram was a location-based checkin app. A lot of companies need to dramatically pivot to meet their customers. The thing that really intrigues me is how much more difficult this is to do for manufactured goods vs. software. The lead times make experimentation harder.


I still wear my Pebble as my daily wear watch! I even have a spare as a backup just in case it fails.
That being said, If I ever found a watch that was useful, had a good battery life, and wasn’t a giant chonk on my wrist, I may eventually switch.

While on vacation, my husband’s Samsung watch died because he forgot to pack the charging cable. I brandished my Pebble watch and said “Well my watch doesn’t need to be charged because it has a 7-day battery life.”
My husband replied without missing a beat “Well my watch company still exists.”
Whomp whomp. :frowning:


I’ve got a Pebble 2 on my wrist as we speak! And, uh, “a few” backups.

And yours has an awesome community support project, which I’d argue is way better.


Rebble all the way baby!!! :smiley:


good, then why don’t you call your watch company to find out what time it is.

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Lets be real –– The Apple Watch did not do-in the Pebble. Capitalism did-in the Pebble. Nobody involved, not even the creator was happy to have a niche product with dedicated users that lived in the shadow of Apple Watch. The Pebble customers and owners were perfectly happy with that. But investor and market expectations would not even allow that equilibrium status for niche product to exist. And that’s a loss for everybody, not just smart watch users, but potential niche products in every category that never get a chance. So instead of having the option to be a Pebble user, you have a choice of Apple or one of its close competitor/copiers, a device that looks out for you second and Apples market share first. And you get to live with the subtle but constant up-sell to the rest of their products closely packed with the product utility. Because capitalism.


Somehow I got the vague impression that, like so many other Kickstarter successes, there wasn’t anything in the Pebble that qualified for patent protection (not always such a bad thing, is it?) and so they were quickly undercut by copycats. But apparently that’s not the case at all.

  • Another reason — the bezel on Pebble Time was too damn big! I knew this in my heart but the project was so behind at the time that I didn’t have the guts to change it.

Looks a bit hindsighty to me. Were bezels such an obsession then?

(And why is the world so effing obsessed with effing bezels? Jeez! Get over it - sometimes they are necessary and they are what they are.)

I thought big-ass watches were in vogue, even for mechanical?

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Yes, but god forbid there should be any space not crammed with dials and rings and figures and so on. The more the better.

Even though this one has quite a large bezel!

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Out of all the smartwatches i’ve seen, this was the closest i’d gotten to liking.

Still not sure i’d have actually used it as a smartwatch, and the battery life (even though insane compared to other smartwatches) would probably still annoy me.

I’ve kinda defaulted to the Casio ‘wave ceptor’ line. It’s a standard digital watch, but with an onboard radio reciever to auto-set the time by itself. Turns out that feature is the one piece of advanced tech i really want in a watch: it always keeps the time and lasts years on a battery…

Odd as i tend to gravitate to cutting-edge tech, but for this i noped out once i got the feature i wanted and am happy with it :slight_smile:

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