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Back in 2012, when Pebble rode on the back of their resoundingly successful Kickstarter campaign – raising over $10 million – the smartwatch arena was sparse in competition. Returning with their new ‘Pebble Time,’ yet again breaking Kickstarter’s record by raising over $20.3 million, Pebble is entering a very different field of battle in 2015. The Android-exclusive offerings from Samsung, Moto, LG, and others are already firmly established.

However, it will be tech giant Apple who will prove the main challenge for Pebble, with their much-hyped Apple Watch releasing on the 24th of April. Both companies offer vastly different products, and yet will directly compete for the privilege of millions of wrists in the upcoming year.

The Function of Smartwatches

The faceoff between Apple and Pebble raises very important questions – what is the role of a smartwatch in our lives? What problems do they solve? Despite an established, competitive market, no one seems to have a definitive answer yet.

Tim Cook described the Apple Watch as “the most personal device we have created”. The device complements the iPhone with convenient access and its fitness tracking capabilities. $349 – for the entry-level ‘Sport’ model – is, however, a high price to pay for the value of convenience. And when the Apple Watch needs to be recharged daily, even that convenience is debatable.

On the other hand, the Pebble opts for simplicity. While the smartwatch lacks Apple’s swanky retina touch display, its e-paper display, – similar to that of your Kindle – simple buttons, and more focused selection of functions truly pays off. The Pebble Time runs circles around the Apple Watch’s battery, lasting 7 days, and at a mere $199, nearly half of Apple’s offering. Pebble’s offering tries to be a wristwatch with added, useful features, unlike Apple, who don’t seem to have a particular focus – which is reflective of how early on in the smartwatch game we really are.

Are Apple Really Thinking Different?

It might already be obvious that I’m somewhat skeptical about the Apple Watch. In the past, Apple products were propelled by the company’s innovation, superior build quality and effective marketing campaigns. Out of the three, the latter seems to be the only remaining advantage Apple have over Pebble in this case.

While the Apple Watch doesn’t hold any substantial features over the Pebble Time, loyalists may be swayed by Apple’s trademark design. Its retina touch display makes Pebble’s e-paper screen appear positively ‘90s in comparison. The watch also allows far more customization, boasting a figure of 36 unique combinations of watch faces and straps.

The Apple Watch is also arguably more powerful, with a vast potential for applications, and naturally better integrated into the Apple ecosystem. Early apps might even allow for some interesting uses, including compatibility with Tesla’s electric cars. In comparison, Pebble have spurned apps, favoring a ‘Timeline’ feature, which displays the past, present and future through the form of past missed calls and emails, or future events and appointments.

It’s often concluded that Apple and Pebble are in different leagues, and can’t be directly compared. That’s sheer laziness, I say. For the fashion-conscious Apple loyalists with money to spare, the Apple Watch might be the better choice. For most of us, however, the price and terrible battery performance are enough to send us running into the open arms of Pebble.

While the Pebble Time might appear a little dated due to its e-paper display and lack of touch screen options, its straightforward timeline feature, intuitive buttons, constant display, along with the aforementioned longevity and affordability make it the everyman’s smartwatch of 2015.

The Future

As Eric Migicovsky, CEO of Pebble, said, “there are years ahead of us – in improving technology, building new functionality and building new ways we can interface between your smartwatch and the rest of your life”. We are very much in the early stages of smartwatch development.

For Pebble, the future has potential. They’ve announced their ‘smartstraps’ hardware, which will allow the straps of Pebble watches to be imbued with additional functions. Areas for growth include the somewhat dated e-paper display and, perhaps, more watch designs – personally, I wouldn’t say no to a circular Pebble watch-face.

In Apple’s case, there’s some serious room for development, and the pathetic battery charge is first on the list. Apple must look to new, more efficient battery technology, or alternatives such as Pebble’s e-paper display or ‘smartstraps’ technology, potentially allowing battery storage in the watch’s strap. Apple must also avoid the issue of a ‘smart phone on your wrist’ by focusing on the essentials feature-wise.

While the upcoming battle between Apple and Pebble is hard to predict, I’m almost certain that, with time and development, the two companies will narrow their focus, find their own niches on the ever-changing smartwatch market, and perhaps even exist alongside each other in peace and harmony.

 

 

 

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