Pebble has been the smartwatch to beat. The startup has managed to remain a top contender in a high-growth market, beating back competition from some of the world’s biggest tech companies. But it’s not resting on its laurels. It can’t, not with the Apple Watch looming.
Instead of sitting back and waiting for the market to shift, the startup has decided to change gears. The Verge reported Monday that Pebble will introduce new devices and a new software platform later this year.
The site reported no details—and that leaves Pebble’s existing technology in limbo.
This Is How The Pebble Rolls
Pebble’s strategy isn’t entirely surprising.
Founder Eric Migicovsky says his company shipped its millionth smartwatch just before year’s end, on December 31. Those last-mile sales were likely buoyed by retail price cuts introduced last year, a move common among device makers about to launch new products. The original plastic model dropped to $99, while the premium steel version fell to $199.
With so many devices circulating in the market, it’s hard to imagine the company throwing all that away to pursue a new platform that’s incompatible with its existing hardware and software. Its app store offers some 6,000 apps and watch faces, built by roughly 25,000 Pebble app developers.
I contacted the company, and founder Eric Migicovsky tried to assure me that his company won’t leave his community in the lurch:
One thing that you can be sure of is the level of commitment we have to our growing community. We’ve updated the software (both firmware as well as smartphone apps) on original Pebble and Steel dozens of times just in the last 6 months. Last fall, we rolled out fitness tracking to all Pebbles (including the original watches from our Kickstarter!) and we’re getting ready to move Android actionable notifications out of beta.
We’ve also worked hard to do right by our developer community. Just last week we launched a Pebble emulator inside our cloud IDE, and have a ton more planned over the next few months.
Keeping The Edge
Ultimately, Pebble’s new, yet still-undefined plans could work in a number of ways.
It could work alongside the company’s current software, allowing older apps to continue—perhaps the way parts of the Tizen operating system favored by Samsung cooperate with Android. The plans could merely involve an evolution of Pebble’s existing technology, with backward compatibility built into the system.
The third possibility: The new “platform” may not really be much different than Pebble’s old one, just with a few additions or expansions thrown into the mix.
If the latter is true, the plans could involve voice, a hugely popular feature in wrist-based wearable tech, as well as other sectors like smart homes and cars—two very hyped areas Pebble is already pursuing. Supporting spoken commands and dictation would bring the wearable up to par with Android Wear and the Apple Watch, both of which rely heavily on speech to compose messages and launch watch apps. The strategy would involve software support and the integration of new hardware, both of which Pebble is planning.
There’s a down side, though: Voice features could hit the battery hard, undercutting one of the main reasons to get a Pebble. With its e-paper display and hardware buttons, the device beats its competitors hands down in time between charges, often lasting five to seven days.
Google’s Android Wear, which launched in mid-2014, is already installed on an army of devices from Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony, and Asus, but they only offer one to two days of battery life. The upcoming Apple Watch will require nightly charging.
Whatever Pebble has up its sleeve, its success will hinge on introducing something new without sacrificing the best parts of the old Pebble experience. Benefits like long battery life and a broad app selection remain rare in the wearables category, and they’re advantages the Apple Watch isn’t likely to match when it launches.
Lead photo courtesy of Pebble