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A Pebble

Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech

Three years ago, smartwatches were supposed to be the next big

They were going to be the platform where the next big app or
social network was built. They were going to free us from our
smartphones. They were going to go from a nerdy dream to a
mainstream reality.

None of that happened.

In fact, it was the opposite. The market for wearables has proven
to be insanely volatile, claiming victims much faster than we saw
with the companies that went kaput following the
introduction of the iPhone.

Last week, Pebble, the startup largely responsible for
juicing interest in smartwatches back in 2012,
sold itself to Fitbit
for basically nothing. Its future
products were canceled, and support for current products will end

Then there’s Android Wear, Google’s operating system for
smartwatches. Google had to
delay the next version of Wear until 2017
, and several
partners have abandoned their plans to make new Android
smartwatches this year. Motorola even said it
halted its smartwatch plans indefinitely

And there have been signs of struggle all across the industry

from once-hot Jawbone
to giants like

The smartwatch and other wearable gadgets have had more than
enough time to prove themselves as major tech products, but
the only companies seeing any kind of success are Apple and
Fitbit. (Even then, Fitbit has had its own struggles since its
entire business revolves around the shaky wearables market.)

It’s time to admit that as enthusiastic as the tech industry was
about wearables a few years ago, the gadgets we got either didn’t
live up to that promise or failed to dazzle enough people to
become major hits. At best, they’re niche products, great for
fitness gurus or geeks who like getting emails on their wrist.

The signs have been there from the beginning too. While Pebble
had an impressive Kickstarter debut, it never sold enough watches
to seep into the mainstream, only crossing the 1 million mark
after about two years. Apple failed to adequately explain why it
made a smartwatch and what it was for, only to pivot this year
and focus on the Apple Watch’s fitness-tracking capabilities
instead. Fitbit has been a roller coaster of minor successes and
major disappointments.

I recently spoke to someone familiar with Pebble’s business who
told me signs of real trouble started creeping in around this
time last year when the company saw disappointing sales over the
Black Friday/Cyber Monday holiday shopping weekend, failing to
beat the numbers from the year before. The company quickly
learned that it couldn’t expand its products to a mainstream
audience, no matter how excited techies were about smartwatches.
Things never got better.

Some might think that’s because it was Pebble’s first holiday
season going against the Apple Watch. I read it as people don’t
want smartwatches, they want an Apple Watch.

There is no smartwatch market. There’s just Apple and Fitbit.

This is a column. The opinions and conclusions expressed above are those of the author.