Much has been said about how the forthcoming (in April 2015) Apple Watch will dominate the smartwatch market. But market leader Pebble Technology, which got its start on Kickstarter in 2013, isn’t giving up. Instead, the company, which has sold over 1 million smartwatches, is launching Pebble Time, a new smartwatch with a color e-paper screen, 7 days of battery life, a new timeline interface, and a microphone, all wound up in black, white, and red colors.
Although the company says that Pebble Time is nearly done, it’s still “launching” via Kickstarter, where the campaign’s $500,000 goal was met in 18 minutes by 2,850 backers. In essence, the Kickstarter campaign is largely a way to pre-sell the Pebble Time at a discount before the Apple Watch ships — 10,000 people will get the Pebble Time for $159 instead of the $199 retail price, and tens of thousands more can get it for $179. Pebble promises the Pebble Time will ship in May 2015 to the first 50,000 backers; subsequent backers are being promised June 2015.
It’s interesting to see where Pebble is focusing its efforts, since the company is clearly trying hard both to compete with the Apple Watch and to put the Pebble Time on a different path. Notably:
- The color e-paper display will be easier to read than the Pebble’s current grayscale display, and while it won’t compare to the Apple Watch’s Retina display and touch screen (the Pebble Time relies on side-mounted buttons), it will be cheaper and less power hungry.
- Expect to see Pebble crowing about the Pebble Time’s 7-day battery life, which is what I see with the current Pebble as well. From all reports, the Apple Watch will need to be charged every night, and for some, that will be a problem.
Pebble’s microphone provides the capability to record short voice notes and send voice replies to notifications, but it doesn’t offer any of the other Siri-like features that the Apple Watch will have. That would require bi-directional communication with a smartphone, and while that’s at least possible on Android, it’s not on the iPhone.
A new timeline interface displays notifications, news, reminders, and events gathered from various different apps. What’s new is that they’re arranged chronologically, starting in the past with previous notifications, coming to the present, and moving to the future with upcoming calendar events. This is the major departure from where Apple is going with the Apple Watch — Pebble found that apps quickly became hard to find in the previous interface. It remains to be seen how fluidly users will be able to navigate within and between Apple Watch apps. Timeline will be available to users of the existing Pebble and Pebble Steel watches sometime in the future.
The Pebble Time is thinner than the previous Pebble models at 9.5mm and features a curved design. The Apple Watch is estimated to be 12.6mm thick. The Pebble Time uses a standard 22mm watch band and a quick-release pin to make swapping bands easy.
With a retail price of $199, Pebble is staying well under the Apple Watch’s entry level price of $349. That’s key — there’s plenty of room for less expensive smartwatches in the market.
In the 45 minutes it took me to write this article, the Pebble Time Kickstarter campaign exceeded $1.6 million and was over 9,000 backers. After only 5 days, Pebble has raised $11.9 million from over 54,000 people. Those numbers may be chicken feed to Apple, but for a small company like Pebble, that’s confirmation that they’re still producing a smartwatch people want, even when faced with the near-term release of the Apple Watch.