Pebble Time graduates from online crowdfund campaign to consumer product at Best Buy Monday. For the first time, non-Kickstarter backers will be able to pre-order Pebble’s latest, marking a milestone in the company’s journey.
Essentially defining the smartwatch category, the first flagship device hardly had any competition when it shipped in 2013 (at least for some people). Now, more mature and a bit more refined, version 2 will go up against the biggest names in the tech industry, hoping to entice shoppers who have no idea what Kickstarter is.
Now we’ll find out if Pebble can make the leap from smartwatch pioneer to mainstream market player—or if the likes of Google and Apple are going to snuff out all of Pebble’s early success.
Time, Do Tell
The journey began back in April 2012 with the most successful Kickstarter ever (a trick Pebble would repeat with the Time). That’s a full three years before Apple’s own smartwatch debuted, but—as the iPod proved—starting off first doesn’t always mean winning the race.
See also: Apple Has Finally Approved Pebble’s Apps
The market that the Pebble Time enters now is significantly different than the one the first Pebble met. In 2015, we’re now awash with all sorts of wearables, giving consumers plenty of choices. No less than a dozen Android Wear watches have entered the market, not to mention options from the likes of Apple, Samsung and others.
The most identifiable smartwatch now, at least for the general public, is the Apple Watch. ReadWrite editor Adriana Lee tells me that strangers regularly ask about her Apple gizmo, pointing to the Pebble Time on her wrist—a scenario that underscores the relative identity problem that could plague the small company.
To give Pebble its due, this David among Goliaths has upped its game: The Pebble Time is a stylish upgrade to the original—particularly the Pebble Time Steel—and its maker strived to create something original, in the form of a chronological timeline interface.
Pebble’s software is also platform-agnostic to some degree, working for both Android users or people with iPhones, though not perfectly. (The watch’s functions vary, depending on the phone it’s paired with. For instance, Pebble’s new voice features, which work well with Android devices, can’t tie into Apple’s phone. No surprise there; the Siri voice assistant is a marquee Apple Watch feature.)
For the casual Best Buy shopper, putting an asterisk or caveat on a key selling point could muck up the works.
A Smartwatch For The Masses?
Getting close to 80,000 enthusiastic tech-savvy backers to crowdfund your device on Kickstarter is one thing—actually selling it to the rest of the world is another.
In part, Pebble’s success will hinge on how well Best Buy shows it off, whether in stores or on the Web. The retail giant made a mess of selling the Asus ZenWatch, so if the chain doesn’t know how (or even if) to position the Pebble Time properly, then this could be similarly problematic.
Fortunately for Pebble, this isn’t the first time the retailer has carried its smartwatch, though it’s not an iron-clad guarantee that it can or will do better this time.
Then there’s the peskier issue of how many people out there actually want a smartwatch in the first place. That’s still not at all remotely clear, and that’s something the whole industry is still trying to work out.
The TL;DR version of the legions of Apple Watch reviews: “Nice device—not sure if I want one.”
If that’s the opinion of seasoned technology journalists and bloggers, then Best Buy’s staffers might struggle to persuade the average man or woman in the street that they should be leaving with a Pebble Time on their wrist.
Pebble may surprise everyone and do what far larger tech makers still haven’t—which is convince the masses that they need a smartwatch to begin with. It will have to, if it hopes to cement its position. The company might even have a shot at making that happen.
As far as challenges go, the small company has a habit of knocking them down. It got into wrist gadgets early, igniting the initial interest, and it broke crowdfunding records, not once, but twice. Pebble has been innovating as furiously as possible ever since. Now, it’s time to see what all that work amounts to.
Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite