Pebble – Is it the Newton of Today?

Pebble WatchI recently purchased the plastic version of the Pebble Smart Watch, made by Pebble.  For those who may not know the history of Pebble, here is a two second intro: Eric Migicovsky couldn’t get funding for his smart watch idea, turned to Kickstarter, got $10.2mm, sold over 250,000 watches,  just introduced a second (kinda) version called the Pebble Steel that looks nicer, but is essentially the same watch.  Got the picture?  I just have to say I love my Pebble.  Instead of wearing some of my much-too-expensive designer watches, I often wear my Pebble.  However,  just because my geekiness has an affinity towards the Pebble doesn’t mean it is a consumer product yet.

The Pebble has a lot of things going for it:

  • Notifications and calls are never missed.  Your phone can be in the other room or your backpack and when a call/notification comes, the Pebble will start vibrating and glow.  You can then either read the message or accept/reject the call.
  • The charge lasts a long time for me – around 5 days (though others have said it only last 3 days) due to Pebble’s use of e-ink technology.  The same e-ink used in the Amazon Kindle that allows you to read the screen in direct sunlight, go for several days without a charge, and is easy on the eyes.
  • A plethora of watch face and a number of apps – Pebble distinguishes a watch face as your standard, albeit sometimes funky, clock that can be run continuously and an app as having more depth and functionality that isn’t run all the time.  Some of my favorite watch faces show funky numbers for the time and the latest weather.  One of my favorite apps is  PebbleBucks  that gives me my Starbucks Rewards barcode for quick scanning at the counter.
  • Light.  The Pebble is incredibly light weight and waterproof to boot!

While all the above points makes a great product, it still doesn’t mean the product is consumer ready.  Here is a test, would you recommend the product to your non-tech savvy relative?  Would this be the next Christmas gift under their tree?  Unless I wanted to spend a week as their help desk, no way.  iPad, no problem.  Pebble, nope, at least right now.

The Pebble has a few problems:

  • The interface is confusing on both the device and the newly introduced Pebble app store.  Simplicity is needed.
  • The current offering of apps and overall functionality are just not that interesting.  As my wife said after showing her the Pebble, “Is that all it does?”  With your attention drawn to so many outlets:  computer, TV, iPhone, iPad, etc, another device that essentially just vibrates when you get a text isn’t worth it to the mass-consumer audience.
  • It’s ugly.  Hands down the plastic version is U.G.L.Y., and the newly introduced Steel with the “Pebble” embossed logo is just campy.  Pebble needs a Jony Ives to bring the device to the next level.

The current version of the Pebble has incredible promise and shows what the future might be for wearable tech.  I’m excited to even own one and trying to develop an app or two.  However, for the wearable tech smart watch space to take off, a more engaging, higher value proposition device needs to be introduced that is fun, beautiful, and lasts a long time between charges.  In other words, while we sit here using the equivalent of an Apple Newton, the mythical Apple iWatch is what we are all waiting.

About Geoffrey Bourne

CTO at Ladders

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