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BARCELONA, Spain — Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky spoke to a large crowd during a session called simply “Wearables” here at Mobile World Congress, and the words “Apple Watch” weren’t uttered once.
Migicovsky took his turn on stage along with executives from Swarovski (partner of Misfit), Fitbit, and Muse. He chose this stage to talk about a new version of the recently released Pebble Time watch, the Pebble Time Steel.
The Steel is a beauty. Pebble watches have traditionally been a bit, uh, awkward-looking. But with the Time, and especially with the Steel, the company has gotten its game on with regard to design and wearability. And, as someone who has seen both watches up close, I think the Pebble Steel has a more subtle visual appeal than the Apple Watch.
Pebble went back to Kickstarter to launch the new Time series. As of today, the Pebble Time is the most funded product in Kickstarter history.
So it was a good day to talk to Migicovsky about his watch, and the smartwatch space. I did so in a small room in Pebble’s tiny booth here at MWC.
VentureBeat: We were talking about the role of a smartwatch — the things it should do. What is the scope of the tasks a smartwatch should handle?
Migicovsky: If you’ve seen some of the first smartwatches, they are set up around apps the same way that smartphones are. We decided to create the Pebble interface around time. The Pebble tells you what time it is, and then a couple of facts about the time.
Most of the things that happen can be taken in the context of time. We designed our interface around things happening in the future, things happening in the present, and things that happened in the past.
(On the side of the Pebble Time, there are three buttons — one for past events, one for present events, and one for future ones.)
For example, say you follow a sports team or two. You might want to know when they are going to play, and maybe what TV channel it will be on. If the game is happening in the present, you might want to know when in the game it is, and the score. If it’s a game in the past, you might want to know the score.
We think that most things can be organized that way, instead of just getting a notification that only arrives once. We used this concept that everything is pinned to a place on your timeline. Just imagine that everything is an event moving through time from future to present to past.
Our product team put an immense amount of time into developing this concept. And we really talked to our users about it.
VentureBeat: This is a major product release in the history of your company. Why did you decide to go back to Kickstarter for this one?
Migicovsky: It was pretty simple. We’ve been working on this watch for a number of years. In a lot of ways we wanted to honor some of the people who originally supported us on Kickstarter. They were the ones who believed in us back when we were just five guys in a garage in Palo Alto trying to make a smartwatch. They gave us the chance of a lifetime. So we really wanted to get the new Pebble in front of the people who really matter.
VentureBeat: Do you care about the Apple Watch?
Migicovsky: Well, I hope it doesn’t fail!
VentureBeat: Really? Why?
Migicovsky: It will be the first time many people have even seen a smartwatch. We’ve sold a million more watches than they’ve sold. And there’s seven billion people in the world, and the vast majority of them won’t be able to afford an Apple Watch.
I think the Pebble is a better product in a number of ways. There are many things that the Pebble does better. The battery life, the compatibility, and even the timeline, which is a complete reinterpretation of the way people think. Ours isn’t based around apps.
* * *
Migicovsky is a very smart guy. Many were ready to give Pebble up for dead as the release of the Apple Watch looms near. But as the Apple hype cycle reaches a crescendo in front of the release of the Watch next month, Pebble has received a lot of attention and good will in the last couple of weeks.
Migicovsky and company deserve credit for going back to their roots — Kickstarter — to release perhaps the biggest product in their history. And the massive response from Pebble’s fan base suggests that the company will be around for a long time, and might actually benefit from the release of the Apple Watch.
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