If Your Device Relies on the Cloud, You Don’t Own It

Towards the end of 2016 Pebble announced that much of it had been acquired by Fitbit. Since Pebble wasn’t doing well financially, news of it being acquired wasn’t surprising. However, Pebble fans had hoped that Fitbit was planning to continue the Pebble line. As is often the case with acquisitions, Fitbit was primarily interested in Pebble’s intellectual property, not its product portfolio. As part of the acquisition Fitbit promised to keep Pebble’s online services running for a while. Yesterday Fitbit announced the date it would be shutting down those services:

But for those who want nothing to do with Fitbit OS development and only care about how long their Pebbles will last, this news is bittersweet. According to Fitbit’s announcement, Pebble devices will continue to work after June 30, but these features will stop working: the Pebble app store, the Pebble forum, voice recognition features, SMS and email replies, timeline pins from third-party apps (although calendar pins will still function), and the CloudPebble development tool.

Pebble fans have been unhappy with the acquisition every since Fitbit announced that it was planning to shutdown Pebble’s online services. However, I think Fitbit was actually pretty decent about the entire thing since it left the online services running for as long as it did and even allowed Pebble developers to push some firmware updates to allowed existing Pebble devices to continue operating in some capacity without the online services. Unfortunately, even with those firmware changes, a lot of Pebble functionality will be crippled once Fitbit turns off the old Pebble servers.

So the lesson people should take away from this is that proprietary devices that rely on proprietary online services aren’t owned property, they’re temporarily licensed products. At any moment the manufacturer can decide to turn off the online services, which will effectively brick or reduce the functionality of the devices that rely on those services. Had the Pebble been an open source product the option would have at least existed for the community to develop new firmware and alternate online services to keep their Pebbles running.