The Pebble Time is the first major revamp to the Pebble family since the Pebble Steel was released last year. The Pebble team has been hard at work on the new watch as well as new software.
The Pebble Time is smaller, thinner and sleeker than the original Pebble. It still looks like a sports watch — but this time it’s 20% thinner. It also has a color screen.
But Pebble devotees needn’t freak out. Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky wants to make it clear that the company has stayed true to the roots that propelled the original Pebble from Kickstarter success story to 1-million-plus seller.
Take the screen: Yes, it’s color, but it’s still e-paper. The technology is similar — but not the same — as Qualcomm’s Mirasol. The idea is to offer a screen that can keep up with a refresh rate of 30 frames per second (fps) while still being visible in sunlight and easy on battery life.
Speaking of battery life, despite having a thinner profile, the Pebble Time still has the same one-week battery life as the original.
Besides being thinner and lighter than the original model, the Pebble Time has a casing that’s slightly curved to better fit the wrist.
The Pebble Time still uses standard 22mm watch bands but now, those bands can be removed with a quick-release button. That makes the process of changing bands a few seconds — as opposed to requiring some jewelers tools.
The Pebble Time will be available in white, black and red and it now has a metal frame to feel more solid. The front of the display is now covered in Gorilla Glass 3.
Like its predecessors, the Pebble Time is controlled by buttons — the display isn’t a touchscreen. For Migicovsky, that decision was made after interacting how users actually use the watch.
“There is something about having tactile controls of a watch that is satisfying and reliable for users,” he told me. Forgoing the additional complexity of a touch screen also helped ensure the the Pebble Time could work in water.
As with battery life, Migicovsky said it was important to keep the waterproof aspect of the original Pebble. To that end, you can still take the Pebble Time in the shower or for a run in the rain.
From a design perspective, the Pebble Time doesn’t have the high-fashion aspirations of an Apple Watch, but it is a solid, good-looking sports watch.
In addition to the color screen, the Pebble Time also has another new feature: voice support. A built-in microphone in the Pebble Time allows users to create voice notes and to perform quick-reply actions to messages or notifications.
Although Pebble hasn’t gone as far as building its own Siri or Cortana virtual assistant, the idea is clearly to create an ecosystem where users can interact with the device more easily.
Right now, that will mean quickly replies to text messages with responses like, “Let me call you back” or, “I’ll see you in 10 minutes.” It will also let users create voice memos and notes.
The way I see it, the real potential of this sort of feature will be with how developers can build in voice features into their own apps.
Of course, it’s not just about new hardware. The Pebble Time comes with a brand-new interface and way of using the watch. Pebble is calling this Timeline.
When we talked to Pebble earlier this month, Migicovsky stressed to me how important he felt software was to the overall smartwatch experience.
“Software is where we can really differentiate ourselves,” he told me at the time, noting that Pebble has more employees dedicated to software than hardware.
And that’s where the new interface comes into view. For Pebble, the idea is to separate the idea that users have to install apps or watch faces on their watch. Instead, they should just be able to have those apps interact with them based on what is happening around them.
To that end, notifications and alerts on the watch will be visible in, well, a timeline. You can move forward or backward in time and see contextual, accessible and useful aspects of an app based around the time and the activity.
So if you go back in time, you can see how many steps you took the day before — or how many hours you slept.
Move forward a few hours and you can see information about an appointment, if there is a restaurant attached, maybe directions or reviews.
The idea, Migicovsky says, is to allow developers to really build experiences around the watch. To that end, Pebble is going to update its SDK so developers don’t even have to build specific apps for the watch — they’ll be able to use web apps and web calls to send notifications, access aspects of the watch and build custom experiences.
But don’t worry — traditional Pebble watch faces and apps will continue to work on the Pebble Time. The traditional app launcher is now called “Present” and all the old stuff will still work. Developers will need to update their apps (there are more than 6,000 already) to work in color — but they’re fully compatible with the new watch and software.
And unlike the old Pebble and Pebble Steel, which required users to pick and choose what apps were installed at all times, the Pebble Time has more memory and is designed so users don’t have to think about which apps are installed. Migicovsky said that 50-60 apps or watch faces can be cached at once and if an app isn’t cached and is needed, it can be downloaded from the phone to the watch, as needed.
For users with an original Pebble or Pebble Steel — good news — Timeline will be released for those devices too.
Kickstarter, Part 2
Pebble is one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time. In fact, before it launched in 2013, the Pebble was the most-funded Kickstarter ever with more than $10 million pledged by 69,000 backers.
Three years later, Pebble Time is going back to Kickstarter. But this time Kickstarter isn’t being used to fund the project. The company has investors and, Migicovsky says, is profitable.
Instead, Migicovsky says Kickstarter will allow Pebble to tell the Pebble Time story and to connect with the people that made the project an early success.
It probably won’t hurt from a marketing point of view either. The Pebble Time is going to be $159 for Kickstarter backers and will be available in May. The Pebble Time will be available online and in retail stores online for $199 later this year.
That time frame means Pebble will be going right up against the Apple Watch. It’s not hard to see that Pebble is hoping to recapture some of the excitement around its original Kickstarter project, especially in the face of such strong competition.
Will it be enough? Pebble thinks that its software, design and ecosystem — not to mention the fact that it works on both iOS and Android, a rarity among wearables — will be enough to stand out in the market.
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