As I write this post, the Pebble Time smartwatch kickstarter is well underway and has already earned over 8 million dollars. This is a big deal my eyes. The Pebble was successful on Kickstarter and the first generation watch has been the spearhead that ignited the smartwatch firestorm.
Many said they were a one hit wonder. From what I'm seeing so far, it would appear that isn't true.
I'm a proud backer of the new device and I feel like I should tell you why, particularly since I already wrote an article last December discussing my opinion of smartwatches and giving a quick review of my, then new, Pebble Steel.
After three full months of usage, my Pebble Steel still goes on my wrist every morning. The device has proven itself useful in my everyday life and in these days of new technology every week, that's quite an achievement.
For example, I keep my phone on silent due to my workplace. Turning the volume up or down depending on if I'm home or at work is annoying and I long ago abandoned the concept of having ringtones and the like. For me, the phone is always silent. As a result, when my phone is in my jacket pocket I can miss plenty of calls and texts. Thankfully, my watch has me covered.
Little vibrations on my wrist remind me of my meetings, tell me when I'm getting a call or message, and I can even give a quick glance at the time when I am walking down a hall and not feeling like fishing my phone from it's secure location in my pocket. After having recently cracked the screen on my Nexus 6, I can't say how important it is for me to have my watch where I don't have to touch my phone unless absolutely necessary.
So this one comes up a lot when we talk Android Wear or Apple Watch vs. Pebble watches. The more powerful and battery draining LED screens on the Android and Apple options lead to less than a full day of battery with any real usage that is offered by the technology.
Many argue that our phones are also single day devices and we are okay with this because we can just charge them at night when we go to bed. No problems to be had.
I'm in agreement with this to an extent. The problem is, I don't know about anyone else, but when I set my phone on my desk or forget it it my car, the next day is a nightmare of me desperately trying to plug the charger in as I move from meeting to meeting or rush back to my desk when I can. There was never a point that I said, "I only want one day on my phone" so much as a an admittance that I wasn't going to get anything better and now have to live with the consequences.
They key issue here is that the watch and the phones WILL die if you don't get them to a charger on their schedule.
When my phone dies, I stuff it in my pocket (where it normally goes) and then I start that carousal scenario above until I have it fairly charged again. If my watch is dead, I'm going to leave it where it is and tell myself that I'll come back for it later...
The Pebble Steel has a 7 day battery. That means that when I come home from work and slip the watch off to do some dishes, I can forget about it there on the counter and go to bed that night without fear that when I wake up in the morning it will be useless to me.
Likewise, when the battery warning finally DOES come up on the Pebble, I have almost a full day to get it to a charger before it dies on me, as opposed to my phone, which throws out a 15% warning and then shuts down a few minutes later.
It may not matter to many people, but battery life is key to me.
Now, at $179 the price is a little steep since I already have a Pebble Steel, but as a fan of eBook readers I was instantly drawn to the color eink screen. For others who haven't yet dipped into the smartwatch area, this is a great way to get started since it's still cheaper than any Android Wear device out there and nearly half the cost of an Apple Watch's base price.
I have to reiterate here that I think Pebble understands something about the smartwatch market that both Apple and Google are missing. We aren't replacing our phones and we don't want to try. In the same way that old time pieces simply made it easier to see what time it was, so too does a smartwatch make it easier to see important events in our timeline.
In my humble opinion, I don't think they are world-changing devices in the way that smartphones were. They are revolutionary for their market, sure, but a smartwatch isn't something that everyone is going to need anytime soon.
As a result of that thinking, I stand firm in my belief that price is critical to the early years of the smartwatch and I believe that is something that was proven by Pebble's latest unveiling.
Don't get me wrong. I expect the Apple Watch to sell very well in it's early days. Apple hasn't given us a new product category since the iPad in 2010 and I suspect millions of people will buy the device this year. I think the greater challenge will be what happens a year later. Will those millions of people be satisfied with a watch that starts at $349?
There is also the question of must have vs. want. Will the watch fit into the iPhone category of need? Will parents buy Apple Watches to go with their kid's iPhones? I can't say for sure, but I have a hard time believing that they will.
Overall, if you're thinking about buying a smartwatch, then I'd recommend Pebble as a starting point. Use it for a year, six months, even a few weeks, and then you can decide if you want to step up to the much more expensive versions that are offered by Apple and Google.
If you're like me, you'll find the Pebble to suit you needs and lose interest in the alternative options.
Maybe you won't. That's okay too. Apple and Google aren't going anywhere and they'll be glad to show you their devices when you're ready.