Pebble is the world’s second largest smartwatch manufacturer, behind Samsung, having introduced the Pebble and then the Pebble Steel watches to the market. These smartwatches offer a simpler experience to the Android Wear devices but also offer better battery life and are compatible with a wider range of devices. In an interview earlier this week, Pebble founder and Chief Executive Officer Eric Migicovsky talked about songs of the businesses’ ideas going forwards. It’s believed that the introduction of the Apple Watch could galvanise the smartwatch market and whilst this could steal some sales, the overall impact is expected to be positive. To use a metaphor, a rising tide floats all boats in the harbor.
One of the key areas where Pebble is looking to innovate is the user interface. Eric said, “The interface on wearables has not been improved by us or by anyone else recently…no one, us included, has been talking about what you’re actually going to do with the watch, and how you’ll get [stuff] done on it.” He went on to explain that the current business model of offering an application interface using touch to replace a mouse or keyboard wasn’t working for Pebble and the company were looking at a new direction, but he declined to explain any further. My interest is piqued by this remark; short of voice control, I’m not sure where interfaces can realistically go on a wrist wearable device.
When it comes to the competition, Eric was disregarding of Android Wear, saying, “It’s still just Google Now, the same Google Now that’s on your phone, and it leads to really annoying things that feel awkward.” It isn’t an area that Pebble will be approaching. Perhaps Eric doesn’t use a Gmail account? He has nicer things to say about the Apple Watch, “I’m looking forward to this next step in the tradeoff between how useful it is and how complicated it is to use.”
This logic follows the Pebble methodology that the smartwatch doesn’t need every sort of sensor imaginable packed into the chassis, but instead the Pebble is designed as a hub or “platform enabler,” in other words, it’s where you might receive notifications from other devices with these sensors, but not necessarily the ideal place to carry these. This line of thinking should see Pebble watches continue to offer solid battery life, especially with the planned move to Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) later this year. This could be combined with using different sensors that also contain a Bluetooth LE radio. This ideology may also include radios too; Eric discusses using QR codes rather than NFC for wrist payment options. These, he believes, are almost as useful but much less demanding of the device in question. Another differentiator between the Pebble products and the competition is that the Pebble is likely to use an always-on display, rather than one triggered by sensors and movement.
Pebble’s focus on battery life and keeping things simple might seem refreshing, but it reminds me of how classic BlackBerry engineers worked back in BlackBerry OS 4, 5 days: they considered every change they made on the BlackBerry hardware and software in the context of the energy (and data) used. BlackBerry devices were designed to do as much as possible with a very limited power and data budget. For a time, BlackBerry devices were the best product on the market, but they failed to innovate. I hope that Pebble’s lack of faith in some of the more sophisticated uses of smartwatches isn’t their undoing, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here! For the time being, I like the Pebble and I am confident that the business will continue to evolve their watches in line with the market.