Fitbit buys Pebble, leaving watch owners in the lurch

Fitbit, one of the biggest fitness band makers, has acquired "specific assets" of Kickstarter-fueled smartwatch maker Pebble. The official press release from Fitbit clarifies that this acquisition includes "key personnel and intellectual property related to software and firmware development," but excludes Pebble's hardware products. Bloomberg reports the price of the acquisition as being under $40 million. In a prepared statement, Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park said that "with basic wearables getting smarter and smartwatches adding health and fitness capabilities, [Fitbit sees] an opportunity to build on [its] strengths and extend [its] leadership position in the wearables category."

The sale is surely a good thing for the founders of Pebble and Fitbit, but what about owners of watches made by the Kickstarter golden child? We have some bad news, coming straight from Pebble's support page. With this acquisition, Pebble is shutting down its regular operations immediately. One-to-one support is no longer available, and while the company says that active Pebble watches will continue to work, functionality or service quality "may be reduced over time."

Pebble watches, the company says, are "no longer covered by or eligible for warranty exchange." Anyone who ordered a Pebble watch from the official site is "no longer eligible for return or exchange," though any outstanding orders will be refunded. Those who braved the risks of Kickstarter to help make a dream come true will see "eligible pledges" refunded by December 16. If you funded the Pebble Time, Core, or Time Round watches, or if you hadn't filled out the necessary information to get your Pebble 2, you'll get your pledges back. Kickstarter refunds may take until March of 2017 to be processed, though. Additionally, if you ordered from outside the US, your refund may be subject to changes in exchange rates.

As Gizmodo notes, sales like these don't happen overnight. It seems likely that Pebble sat on backer funding for months while working out this deal. While Kickstarter isn't pumping away at the same feverish pitch of a few years ago, Pebble was one of the site's highest-profile successes. It's possible this sale could erode trust in Kickstarter even more than the many troubled crowded-funded video games of years past.

This sale might not be much of a surprise to those who have been watching. Rumors have been flying about a Pebble buyout for some time, and market research firm IDC showed most smartwatch makers seeing a decline in sales since the initial rush. Even so, this is a disappointing move for a consumer-favorite company as its most fervent supporters are left almost empty-handed for their love and money.

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