Monday, April 08, 2013

More Than a Watch

I have had my Pebble watch for about a month now and I can tell you it is an amazing bit of technology.  As I have sifted through all the ways is has allowed me to change behaviors for the better, I have also realized that there are a couple of larger impacts that the Pebble is having that few seem to notice.

Impact #1:  Pebble and the Phablet

My son remarked to me the other day about the growth of the screen size of phones that are coming to market and how some will no longer fit in many pockets.  I remarked that the baby boomers like me are happily plunking down lots of cash for these larger screens rather than hunt for reading glasses every time an email or text message arrives.  In fact, even without eyesight issues, larger phones are just easier to read even though they are not designed for a “holster” connected to a belt or purse strap.  My Pebble with its Bluetooth connection means I do not need to pull out my phablet phone every time an alert happens.  This is a big nuisance removed from my life.

The Pebble watch face may be a bit small, perhaps even blurry for un-aided eyes, but I can tell what type of alert set my wrist to buzzing and whether or not the cause is worth digging out my phablet.  I suspect that as more phablet-sized phones get sold, the convenience that Pebble offers will become as desired as the Bluetooth headset that these large phones really need. 

Impact #2:  The Birth of an Industry

Many of you may well be too young to recall the Apple Newton or the Casio Boss.  Neither survived long as both suffered from various missing functionality.  Enter the Pilot, the name “Palm” came later.  Initially, like the Pebble, the Pilot arrived with a slightly different objective in mind than that of the preceding PDAs.  The Pilot was designed to be more than an organizer and configurable to the needs of the users.  Its size allowed it to be held comfortably in one hand with data entered via a stylus and a “strange” form of shorthand we know as Graffiti. 

Initially, the Pilot was a novelty and many critics lamented the need for more software.  The fact of the matter is that out of the box, the Pilot allowed the user to keep track of their contact list and calendar and take notes among the handful of apps available.  It also synchronized the various apps on my desktop computer.  The simple design was the personification of the niche for which it was designed; a device that was small, easy to access, suitable PDA applications, decent battery life and extensible via SDK.  It was meant to complement the bulky desktop computers we all had along with pens and paper.  Turns out, the Pilot was the right combination of features and the market took off.

The Pebble is history repeating itself.  The initial release has a limited set of software apps with more coming via the SDK.  The market niche being addresses is uniquely defined not as a computer on my wrist but as a notification-enabling extension of my phone.  Personally, I do not want a computer on my wrist.  Costs too much and the screen would be too small.  I did not buy a Pilot because I wanted a PC in my pocket.  I did not buy a Nano and make it into a watch because it did not and does not have the functionality that I want.  The Pebble does exactly what I want; let me screen the phone-based alerts without having to drag out my phone. 

As the developer community continues to build apps and Pebble continues to expose more of the inner workings of the Pebble to the developers, look for the idea of “phone extension” to become a monster market.

Accelerometer, magnetometer, CPU, memory, backlight and buttons.  Imagine apps on your phone with remote control functions on your Pebble.  OnStar.  Are you listening?  Home automation via Pebble?    Just scroll the Pebble screen, hit a button and change the thermostat setting.  How many apps are on your phone today for which interactions via a small screen and a couple of buttons would mean no need to drag out the phone?

While the Pebble may appear to have lots of competitors today and in the near term, none have the price point and focused niche that can be found in Pebble.  Like the initial Pilot, the Pebble has nailed the combination of features and launched a race to lead this new market.  I, for one, cannot wait for the pace to pick up speed.

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