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Tales In Tech History: Pebble Smartwatch

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The story of the smartwatch pioneer who used crowdfunding to bring its products to market, yet its success proved short-lived

In previous Tales in Tech History articles we have examined pieces of legacy technology from the past 60 years.

But technology nowadays is a fast moving beast and sometimes this tech can be quite young before it disappears forever and passes into legend.

This is certainly the case with Pebble, which was a pioneer in the field of smartwatches by offering the first smartwatch for Android and iOS, years before big name rivals such as Samsung and Apple entered the market.

Pebble 2 straps

Kickstarter Campaign

Long before Pebble arrived on the scene however there was Inpulse (formerly known as Allerta), which created the first smartwatch for the BlackBerry platform.

After that, CEO Eric Migicovsky started to think about his next device (which would become the original Pebble smartwatch), one that could display messages from selected Android smartphones and devices.

And whilst Migicovsky had a lot of ideas and suggestions for the new device, the problem was that he was struggling to get funding for his new project from traditional sources.

This resulted in the creation of Pebble’s famous crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in April 2012, under the new name Pebble Technology.

The campaign initially hoped to raise $100,000, and in return the backers who spent $115 would receive a Pebble smartwatch when they became available ($99 for the first 200). It was effectively pre-ordering the $150 Pebble at a discounted price.

This was at a time (2012) when the tech landscape was very different to what it is now. Smartwatches were not well known at that time, but some firms (such as Sony etc) had been trying (unsuccessfully) to convince the world that they needed them.

So when Pebble launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, it was heading into uncharted territory.

But within two hours it had reached its $100,000 goal. A day after that the campaign skyrocketed to $1 million, and when its fund raising campaign was eventually over in May 2012, Pebble had managed to raise $10.2 million from over 85,000 backers.

This made it, for a number of years at least, one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever.

Pebble 1

Supply Chain Issue

What attracted all those backers was the bold design of the original Pebble smartwatch, coupled with an e-paper screen to allow for easy reading in daylight (and of course a much longer battery life).

Pebble itself had planned the manufacturing of the device in order to satisfy all of its backer, but perhaps inevitably there were a few issues which angered some of its backers.

The original shipment date of September 2012 for the first 100,000 devices came and went, but by January 2013 Pebble had managed to iron out the kinks and began shipping its first Pebble smartwatch to its backers.

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