Home Pebble Rolls With A Circular Smartwatch

Pebble Rolls With A Circular Smartwatch

At this point in the smartwatch market, there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about a round device. Popularized by the first Moto 360—whose circular, modern design made it the most popular Android watch last year—the industry en masse has since rushed to snip the corners off its square watches.

Now, so has Pebble, which introduced a new circular design of its own on Wednesday. Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky said his new Pebble Time Round is no late-to-the-party copycat. 

“We’ve been working on this for over a year,” he told me at a meeting at Twenty Five Lusk, a restaurant in San Francisco’s SoMa district.

Pebble Time Round watches have various color and strap options.

It has only been three months since Pebble launched its Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel. But that hasn’t stopped this rolling stone from introducing a new version, and a new software development kit for app makers who want to support it. 

The new product is available for preorders Wednesday, and will ship early next month. (Unlike the first Pebble and the Pebble Time, Pebble is not running a Kickstarter campaign for the Round.)

In all, the Pebble Round looks like a decent, well-made unit. But while the device has some noticeable pros, it also comes with a potential con—shorter battery life.

The New Landscape

Pebble faces a very different smartwatch landscape than it did when it first hit the Kickstarter trail in 2012. Now, rivals crowd the space—not least of which is Apple. Even despite the tech giant’s entry into the smartwatch market this year, Pebble still enjoys a leading position in the market, Migicovsky says. To keep its edge, the company must keep its finger on the pulse of its users. (Maybe not literally: Unlike the Apple Watch and some Android models, the newest Pebble still lacks a built-in heart-rate monitor.)

And if what its users want are choices, said Migicovsky, his company is only too happy to comply. 

“The watches that we make go on a variety of different wrists,” he said. “Different sizes, tastes … we have a sporty offering—Pebble and Pebble Time—but on the size front, we didn’t have very many different sizes.”

He counted up the number of Pebble variations in front of me, and came to some 21 different versions covering various colors and styles.

The company has been working on the new model, designing and developing it alongside its most recent Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel. The devices share many similarities—including a full-color screen and the company’s stock set of four buttons—though there are some very noticeable differences.

On the outside, the Pebble Time is thicker, with more heft. The new lightweight Round model is, in fact, the thinnest Pebble yet, at 7.5 millimeters. Pebble’s designers took inspiration from Skagen, the Fossil watch brand whose minimalist watches take cues from Danish contemporary design.

While it looks sleek and well-built on the outside, it is what’s inside that could give potential customers pause: Pebble Time Round only works for 2 days before it needs charging.

A Power Hit

To achieve its desired design, Pebble had to reevaluate some of the internals, and power cells are often the largest and heaviest single components in a given gadget. So the company sacrificed battery life for the sake of design.

That’s a tricky scenario, especially for Pebble, which is known for watches with a weeklong battery life. That feature has given it a leg up in the “arm race,” since the competition tends to offer only a day or two. Messing with the formula now could be a rather big gamble.

However, Migicovsky aims to make up for it by including another new feature: If people have to charge their watches more often, then they should be able to do it quickly. Enter fast-charging.

The cable and magnetic connector haven’t changed—it’s identical to the Pebble Time’s charging hardware—but the Round can last up to a full day after a 15-minute juice-up.

“It was an extremely important decision that we made,” he told me. “But when we talked to people, it wasn’t the battery life people loved so much—it was not having a hassle.”

That’s particularly important for people who need their Pebbles available all day or night to track activities like steps or sleep.

We’ll know soon if they’ll accept faster charging time as an acceptable replacement for long-lasting power.

New Kit, New Code

The Pebble Time Round will run the company’s latest Timeline interface, but app makers will have to adapt their apps for the new round layout. Toward that end, Pebble is also releasing a new software development kit today that lets them support the circular format “with a minor change,” Migicovksy said.

The SDK covers both color and black and white screens, so the apps will work on any Pebble. Developers will get a little over a month to prepare before the product hits the market. The company is also bringing the latest software to the original Pebble, though with some omissions due to some physical limitations. For instance, the first watch doesn’t have a microphone, so it won’t be capable of voice notes or replies, like the newer models.

Pebble Time Round is available for online preorder starting Wednesday from Best Buy, Target,  and Pebble’s websites, with Amazon coming soon. Orders will ship, and inventory will hit stores, on November 8.

What customers will get is a round, stainless-steel smartwatch with a 38.5-millimeter diameter chassis with three color choices: silver, black, and rose gold. The device is splash-resistant and comes with a built­-in microphone, vibration alerts, and cross-platform support for both iPhones and Android smartphones.

The Pebble Time Round starts at $250 and will come with two watchband sizes, at 14 mm and 20 mm, with leather or metal quick-release straps. (Metal costs $50 extra.)

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite 

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