From Pebble to VanMoof: the emerging problem of smart products & server dependence

When we look back at the history of smart technology, the Pebble tale stands out as an early example of a rising issue within the industry. Pebble’s smartwatches were among the first to require continuous server assistance in order to work properly. VanMoof, an e-bike firm, appears to have a similar tale to Pebble, stressing a potential bigger issue within the wearable tech sector.

The shaky path of VanMoof

Following in the footsteps of Pebble, VanMoof—a recently bankrupt e-bike manufacturer from Denmark—demonstrated the recurring subject of smart technology’s reliance on live servers. Founded in 2009, VanMoof’s e-bikes were widely praised when they were first released. However, the company ran into financial difficulties which led to its ultimate demise. Administrators are now considering whether the business can be restructured and keep going in some fashion.

These smart e-bikes run on a network of servers that communicate with the owner’s smartphone. For example, the bike’s unlocking method necessitates the exchange of a unique key code between the bike and VanMoof’s servers. Owners cannot obtain access to their bikes without this connection, leaving them with a pricey and immobile object.

A rival uncovered a potential solution to this problem by developing a system for generating dynamic key codes. It does, however, rely on initial seeding from a real VanMoof server. The bikes will become inaccessible to anyone who has not loaded this third-party app in advance once the servers are switched off. It’s a mess.

A Pebble in the pond: The smartwatch’s legacy

Pebble’s tale is strikingly similar to VanMoof’s, establishing the pattern for the issue that many smart gadgets face today. The smartwatch relied significantly on live servers for functionality, and when the company went bankrupt, there were questions about the long-term operation of these gadgets.

Pebble is actually a brilliant example of how such circumstances could be handled. Even in the absence of economic interest, a committed crew known as the Rebble team stepped in to ensure the continuation of server support for the smartwatches. It’s not a perfect solution. But it demonstrates the value of community and accountability in the digital business. Years after the Pebble company ceised to exist, thousands of its watches are still ticking along on the wrists of loyal fans.

In the future: The birth of ‘digital orphans’

These examples emphasise the growing problem of ‘digital orphans’—smart gadgets made useless due to a lack of server support. It’s a worry that raises the question, “Are we entering an era in which technological advances will be hampered by their own dependencies?”

As more entrepreneurs release smart goods that rely on server support, the risk of these items becoming orphaned grows. Especially given the potential of these companies going bankrupt or being bought up and discontinuing support for older models.

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This isn’t just a theoretical issue. If a large-scale producer of smart gadgets fails, the impact could harm millions of users. Legislation may be required to protect consumers from such incidents.

The stories of Pebble and VanMoof serve as a warning tale, indicating that we should start talking about how to deal with this problem sooner rather than later. It’s a tangled scenario, but it’s one that will almost certainly grow more common as technology improves. We must learn from history and take actions to create a more secure future for smart products and their users.

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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