Saturday, December 17, 2016

Missed it By THAT Much

It can happen in any category; almost any product or service runs the risk of being left behind, obsoleted or scaled out. It doesn't matter where it is in its lifecycle. Kodak had the market for film all but monopolized. Then along came digital cameras, and it seemed like overnight yellow went back to meaning sunshine as opposed to film boxes. Or one day everybody was buying standalone GPS's and marveling how we lived without them. Then they put the same chip into cell phones, and we lived without them quite easily, thank you very much. And My Space was THE place to go online. The place, that is, until a startup run by a Harvard dropout caught fire and left it in the dust. Perhaps you've heard of Facebook?

Of course, the chance of being eclipsed like this is more prevalent in technology than anywhere else. By its very nature, it's constantly being updated and reinvented. It's not quite the same with a pair of pants or a shirt. Sure, there may be new styles, new form factors, but you can still wear your old ones. You may look a little out of touch in your bell bottoms or your peasant blouse, but they work just fine. Not so with your Apple Newton or your floppy discs or your 8 tracks. Still, you usually have some warning, some heads-up, an off ramp wherein you can migrate to the next new thing.

In this instance I was close. Very close. But this time I lost the race.

It's not like I was using cutting edge technology. Yes, I'm a gadget geek, but I'm not usually first to the table. I like to see something come out, stabilize, get established, and then join the party. It's a running gag that I buy my wife some gizmo for a gift, to which she responds that it really is for me. But after she lives with it a bit, she learns to like it and makes it her own. It was that way with the Tivo, the Fitbit and the Amazon Echo.

However, in this case I plead guilty: this one was indeed for me. I wanted a smartwatch, one of those devices that sits on your wrist and connects you to your phone. Believing they were still in early days, and not sure of their utility versus their novelty, I shopped and read and finally opted for the low cost way in. Called a Pebble, this basic watch may have been a Kickstarter crowd funded startup, but it did all that the more expensive models did at a much lower price point.

And indeed, after using it, I was convinced that it did what you hope technology will do: make things easier. It had some limitations, but the practicality outweighed the shortcomings. I was hooked, and was keeping my eyes open for the next generation, where the price and features both made more sense. I just had to get to that inflection point. But then my unit started to fail.

I read some tricks online. Try this menu sequence; no dice. Push these two buttons; that fixed it for a while, then it went wonky again. I tried a full reset; good for a bit, then back to sorta working. Since it was under a year since I got it, I wrote to the company. Indeed, they responded toot sweet, asked for some info, and said we're sending you a new one. Amazing! Customer service as it was meant to be.

And then they went out of business.

Somewhere between the time they issued a tracking number and UPS picked up my new watch, the company sold its intellectual assets and ceased functioning as an entity. No support. No service. And no replacements. Had I started the process just a week earlier, I might have beaten the clock. But if ever the term can be said to apply, I was literally on the bubble.

Sigh. It was fun while it lasted. It was a good idea, but I guess it still has a little more growing up to do. Until the price comes down on the other entries, I guess I'll go back to a regular watch. And so if you see me fiddling with my wrist, it's not that I'm responding to a text; I'm scratching an itch, in more ways than one.


Marc Wollin of Bedford really liked his Pebble. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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