Smartwatch Market Evolution
Molly Wood goes hand-on (“wrist-on”?) with the Pebble Steel in today’s New York Times. She’s generally underwhelmed by the apps, and the related use cases, for the watch. I’m a big fan of my “original” Pebble, though I mostly agree with her observations. When I first heard rumors of the “new” Pebble, I was anxiously watching to see if I’d get left behind with the upgrade. I don’t think that’s the case (no pun intended).
For me the overwhelming app for the Pebble is RunKeeper. As long as you carry your phone running, it turns your Pebble into a simple GPS watch at a fraction of the price of offerings from Garmin, etc. If you’re a runner, in most cases you’re probably carrying your phone with you so it’s not really an added burden.
Beyond that, the notifications and remote control aspects of the watch are good, particularly in the Polar Vortex winter we’re having in the Northeast, where your phone is often many layers down. Put those features together with a few days’ battery life in a $150 package and that made it a pretty simple choice for me.
The Pebble Steel dresses the watch up for an additional $100. I’m not sure this is much value-add (I know it’s not for me). The watch markets, like a lot of markets, is getting hollowed out in the middle — people either wear high-end timepieces, functional sports watches, or no watch at all. The original Pebble fits in that lower end bracket with some geek chic thrown in. I agree with Molly that neither version is well suited for the standard female wrist. The Steel looks nice but is not going to fool anyone into thinking that it’s a high end watch, and it takes away from the utilitarian aspects of the plastic/ rubber original.
Molly Wood also mentions her irritation at the proprietary charging interface. I had the same reaction at first, and contacted Pebble to see why they had made that decision. Their response was that they wanted the product to be waterproof to 50m, which was not possible with any type of USB interface. That’s a pretty good answer, although when you dress it up to the Steel it’s less clear that people want to get it that wet — perhaps if they had gone for more of a diving watch design it might make more sense. It is a bit irritating that the Pebble Steel charger is a different proprietary interface than the original (no word if new versions of the old watch will switch to the new interface). Jawbone did this as well with their UP24. As a consumer and technologist, I can understand that USB is not the right choice for everything. However, asking me to buy into multiple proprietary chargers for a single product line is a bit much.
Overall am very pleased with the Pebble — and for my requirements, would choose the same one again even if the Steel were available for purchase last year. It’s a segment that’s involving in front of us, so the use cases are still emerging. I didn’t know of the Starbucks app until I read Molly Wood’s article. I installed it quickly (the Pebble Appstore works very well) and used it this morning. It remains to be seen how this plays out over the next 12-18 months, still plenty of room for a late entrant like Apple to come in, take advantage of all the learnings others paid for, and clear the table.