A lot of companies, including electronics industry leaders like Sony, have been trying to find the right formula for a smart, connected watch to help users gain an accessible entry-point for wearable computing. It’s a trend that a lot of technologists and futurists have been predicting for a while now, but one that has yet to find much traction among the buying public, despite the availability of the MetaWatch, which has been shipping since 2006, the Sony LiveView (and now the Sony SmartWatch), and the inPulse, a BlackBerry-friendly smart watch designed by the team behind the most-recent Kickstarter smash-hit, Pebble. Pebble shows more promise than any of the above, however, based on its trajectory on crowd-funding site Kickstarter. The project launched on Kickstarter yesterday, and received $100,000 in the first two hours.
Pebble is a new product designed by Allerta, the company which introduced the inPulse smart watch in 2010 as something specifically designed to work with BlackBerry devices. The company has since opened it up to work with Android devices, but Allerta Marketing & Operations lead Rahul Bhagat said that the number one thing they were hearing in terms of feedback from potential users is “where’s the iPhone support?”
And iPhone support is one of the main things Bhagat believes is behind Pebble’s amazing success on Kickstarter so far. “We had the concept of getting data on your wrist right with the inPulse, but what’s worked for us with the Pebble is definitely the iPhone support,” he said in an interview. “The growth of the Android market, which has exploded in the past two years is another big help, and I guess the last factor would really be having Kickstarter. That’s provided a great outlet for us to reach the right kind of audience.”
Bhagat says Kickstarter offers the Pebble an opportunity the inPulse never had, which is debuting on a platform with an engaged, tech-savvy audience eager for exactly this kind of connected hardware tech. A simple survey of past funding successes shows why Bhagat is right; items like the Twine which also features built-in support for simple DIY programming recently raised $556,541, and one of Kickstarter’s early successes was Scott Wilson’s LunaTik watchband, which simple made the iPod nano wrist-wearable.
Pebble offers DIY programming options, including support for ifttt.com, but its main focus will be on getting app developers to create custom applications via its SDK. Apps will be collected in a Pebble app store, which Bhagat says the company is planning to keep free. The possibility of paid apps being offered is also something the company is looking into, but Bhagat said that the current focus is on providing companion apps to things like Runkeeper that live on a user’s phone in order to augment the experience.
With its e-paper screen (which is different from e-ink, Bhagat said, with a 30fps refresh rate for much smoother animations) and lack of internal sensors (it has an accelerometer for sports applications, but depends on a user’s phone for GPS and other data), it can get as much as a week’s worth of use on a single charge of its internal battery, despite maintaining a constant Bluetooth 2.1 connection. That’s a lot longer than the inPulse’s 24 hours, and something that will definitely help drive adoption.
Pebble still faces hurdles despite, and in some cases because of, its startling success. The device still has to pass Apple’s made-for-iPhone/iPod/iPad (MFI) program, but it’s in the process of doing that right now, Bhagat told us. There’s no guarantee that it’ll pass, but so long as Allerta follows Apple’s guidelines, there shouldn’t be a problem. That means that iPhone users won’t be able to push SMS content to their Pebble watches; everything else should work fine, though, thanks to Apple’s allowance of access to Bluetooth accessories for background apps from third-party developers, which it introduced in iOS 5.1.
There’s also the problem of facing a different scale of initial orders than initially anticipated. Pebble already has over 7,000 backers with 36 days left to go in its funding drive, all of which will be getting at least one watch as a backer reward. The company already has a product to ship, so it isn’t starting from scratch, and Bhagat said that the demand will help make it easier and cheaper to buy parts in higher volumes.
Wearable computing is a revolution waiting to happen, and it makes sense that it’ll start with something people are already used to wearing, like watches, or glasses as in Google’s Project Glass demo. inPulse has the expertise and the experience to be at the forefront of this movement, and now, thanks to Kickstarter, it also has a captive audience, a marketing head start, and the funding to make its vision a reality.