Pebbling after Fitbit: introducing the Rebble Web Services
Hey there! Katharine Berry here. As you may well have heard by now, Fitbit will be shutting down all Pebble services at the end of June of this year. After that, if nothing were to be done, then no services that require a Pebble server would work any more — which includes the appstore, weather, dictation, some parts of timeline, iOS SMS/email actions, the CloudPebble IDE, and more.
The observant among you might also notice that none of these things have been mentioned in a community update in over a year. Fortunately, we have the makings of a plan: the Rebble Web Services. In this post, we have a few things to cover. First, I’ll talk about what we plan to replace, and why that’s important. In there, I’ll talk about how we plan to do it. And somewhere around the end, I’ll talk about that little important detail that all of us in the Pebble community are so acutely aware of: how we’re going to fund it.
Of course, everything in here is our best estimate. We think we can achieve almost all of this in time for the Pebble server shutdown, but as is always the case, no battle plan seems to survive first contact with the enemy… We are a team of volunteers who are very excited to bring this to you, but all manner of real-life things can get in the way, and so potentially large parts of this post are subject to change.
What we’re replacing
The original Pebble services are a pretty large chunk of code! Some of your watch’s functionality is entirely between your phone and the watch, but a good portion of the Pebble experience lives in the cloud. The app store, for instance, runs entirely on Pebble’s servers – but you might not have known that some types of timeline notifications go through Pebble, and that the weather information that’s built into the watch comes from the Pebble servers, not from your phone’s weather source. So let’s get started with what’s going to change, and how it’ll impact you.
Apps and firmware
Impact: Users will have to switch to new Rebble Web Services manually.
You will continue to use Pebble’s latest Pebble mobile apps and Pebble firmware for the forseeable future. All of the Rebble Web Services will work with these; you’ll just have to create a Rebble account and tap a button to switch.
Impact: Users will have to create a new Rebble account, but much of your Pebble account data will be preserved.
Once Fitbit shuts down the Pebble services, you won’t even be able to log in! We are going to replace your Pebble logins with brand new Rebble logins. Because nobody wants to have yet more accounts on the internet, we will back your Rebble login with a Google, Facebook, or similar login. Don’t worry if you happen to dislike one or another of those … the choice of which you’ll use to log in will be yours!
For KiezelPay users: once you switch to using a Rebble account, if you do not perform an import from your old Pebble account, you will have to re-claim your apps using the email address you originally used to purchase the app. This should only be necessary once, after which your apps should continue to work as they did before. You will not have to buy them again.
Impact: Rebble users will automatically get the Rebble Store as a replacement.
As mentioned in previous community updates, work started on a Pebble Appstore replacement almost as soon as Pebble announced that it was ceasing operations. The Rebble Store should be ready to go by the time the original Pebble appstore shuts down, with all the original functionality. We might even be able to import the list of apps you have installed!
Impact: Most apps will continue to have functioning Timeline pins, but some apps will need updates from the developers.
Even without Rebble, you could still expect to see your calendar entries on the timeline. With Rebble, it’s more complicated: you can expect more, but probably not everything.
Timeline functions as a web API, where other servers push timeline updates to Pebble servers, which then forward those updates to your watch. We can (and will) rebuild the servers that pass timeline updates along to your watch. We will also automatically alter apps that skipped the server and just pushed directly into your timeline (there were many) so that they hit our servers instead of Pebble’s. What we cannot do, however, is alter app developers’ servers so they hit us instead of Pebble. We will provide them with new endpoints to hit before the time comes, and hope that they get the memo to update.
Finally, Timeline updates will become slower. While Timeline is today sometimes able to update immediately when a service sends you a pin or notification, for technical reasons it is impossible for any entity other than Fitbit to provide that service. Using the Rebble timeline service, updates will instead occur every fifteen minutes.
Impact: Built-in weather functions will become an inexpensive, but paid, feature.
Pebble uses the weather in a couple of places: there’s the official weather app, and there are the sunrise and sunset pins in the Timeline. Today, Pebble fetches this information from The Weather Channel. We will replace this with information from another weather API. Unfortunately, these APIs cost us some money to access, so we will be providing weather access as part of a donation-based package (see below). If you choose to pay for it, that’ll enable full weather functionality, and help support the service for everyone. If you do not donate, the system weather app and timeline pins won’t appear – but all third-party watchfaces will continue displaying the weather without interruption for as long as the APIs they use continue to function.
Impact: Dictation will become an inexpensive, but paid, feature.
Unfortunately, dictation is already broken when using iPhones running iOS 11+ with either a Pebble 2 or Pebble Time Round. As far as we know, there is nothing that we can do to fix this. For Android users, as well as iOS users with a Pebble Time or Pebble Time Steel, we will be replacing Pebble’s Nuance dictation with Google Cloud Speech. Unfortunately, just like weather, this will cost us some money each time you use it. So, in order to run this sustainably, this will also be a paid feature. If you decide that you don’t want dictation, everything else will continue to work, but your Pebble will display an error when you try to speak to it.
iOS SMS and e-mail replies/actions
Impact: SMS and e-mail replies and actions won’t work on iOS.
Pebble had agreements in place with several carriers and service providers in order to provide the ability to reply to text messages on iOS. Pebble also provided e-mail actions by requesting access to your e-mail account. Unfortunately, there is no way that we can reasonably provide this service: the privacy and security implications of having this access are greater than we are willing to tolerate. As such, we will not be providing either SMS or email action support for iOS.
Impact: CloudPebble will be transitioning to Rebble Web Services, and will have the option to import your old CloudPebble projects – if you migrate them before the old Pebble servers shut down.
CloudPebble, Pebble’s online development environment, is unique among these services in that the original source code is available (and, in fact, I wrote it). We will be bringing up our own version of CloudPebble soon, and working with Fitbit to enable developers to migrate from the old Pebble version to our new version. Any projects not exported or migrated by the time Fitbit shuts down services will be lost forever, so it is important for developers who use CloudPebble to act soon. We will be running an initial, limited version of the Rebble services for these developers. It will continue to work with Pebble’s existing appstore, timeline, etc. but will support the Rebble CloudPebble, as well as using Rebble services for the CloudPebble Developer Connection.
Running these services will cost money – potentially, quite a lot of money. Beyond just the basic cost of running any old kind of web service (expensive, these days!), the dictation and weather services that we depend on each charge per request. We know the pain of having the services that run our beloved watches shut down, so we’d like to build a structure such that the Rebble Web Services are sustainable for quite a while to come. And to that end, we will be setting up a Patreon, so that the generous among you can donate to keep the services running. We want the basic Rebble experience to be free for everyone – so if you donate to help us defray the cost of running Rebble, we’ll enable some services that cost us some more.
For right now, we plan to have a couple of options. The first option, as I mentioned, is to pay nothing at all: if you don’t, you’ll still get access to your Rebble account, the app store, timeline, and CloudPebble. Alternatively, while the exact numbers are up in the air, we expect that for around two dollars per month not only will you be helping keep Rebble alive for everyone, but you will get everything that we can provide – weather, dictation, and the rest of the Rebble services keeping your beloved watch ticking.
A brief moment of Fitbit love
When we start talking about money, it’s easy to get angry at Fitbit. It can feel like they’re the ones responsible for taking away our watches, or for shutting the servers down. In reality, all of us on the Rebble team are very grateful for Fitbit’s support! They have been keeping the Pebble servers running even longer than they’d originally announced, and they’ve given us some needed extra time to come up with a solution for you. If Fitbit had not purchased Pebble, it’s likely that the Pebble servers would have shut down with no notice at all. And, if all that was not enough, the Fitbit team has been very cooperative in working with us to come up with a plan to transition your watch to our new Rebble Web Services – something they had no obligation to do at all, but that they’re doing because they love Pebble the same way that we do.
So for all those reasons, we’re thankful for the way Fitbit has handled this transition – and we hope that you will be, too!
We’ve talked a lot, in a lot of detail, in this post. If you want just a few things to take away, here you go:
- We will be providing replacements for almost all Pebble services 🎉
- Most things will work just fine when you switch to the Rebble servers
- Timeline apps may require developer changes to remain functional
- Timeline updates will be limited to every fifteen minutes
- We will have a Patreon page for you to donate to keep the services running
- We will require that you pledge around a couple of dollars a month for weather and dictation. All other services will remain free.
- iOS SMS/email actions/replies will not be supported
- Fitbit are our friends
- All of this is subject to change
Whew! That just about covers it. We’ll have more updates for you as the months pass. Many of you have already offered your support in response to my tweet, and it is thanks to you all that we are undertaking this endeavour. See you soon!