By Jason Snell
October 6, 2014 1:32 PM PT
How do you compete with the Apple Watch? Don’t.
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Last week smartwatch pioneer Pebble announced a software update and a price cut, so the original Pebble is now available for just $99.
Let’s face it: The new generation of smartwatches (and the Apple Watch yet to come) has made Pebble look like outmoded technology. But Pebble still has advantages—and yes, I’m still wearing mine a year and a half later.
The big advantage is battery life. Pebble’s screen is a low-power, low-resolution black-and-white LCD. But that screen helps my Pebble last almost a week on a single charge. The other smartwatches out there need recharging more or less every night. You can even wear Pebble in the pool, which you can’t do with an Apple Watch.
The new generation of smartwatches are like little smartphones, packed with features on bright color screens. Pebble, in contrast, is a simple device with a long-lasting battery that’s good at pushing your phone notifications to your wrist. I find value in that, and I suspect that I’m not alone.
Combine all that with a low price, and you’ve got a sales pitch for a product that otherwise would be put out to pasture. Unfortunately, Pebble’s software direction seems to be focused a bit too much on enabling background tasks for third-party apps, which threatens to make Pebble more complicated and harm its battery life.
Simplicity is good. As Ben Thompson wrote in his excellent Stratechery newsletter (membership required) last week:
Pebble is doomed to lose the features game; I’d much rather see them pare inevitably inferior functionality and focus on increasing battery life, thus making their primary differentiation – and marketing – that much more defined.
I couldn’t agree more. Pebble might have something if it focuses on being cheap, with a long-lasting battery and a very simple (but solid) feature set. If Pebble tries to be everything to everybody and compete with Samsung, Motorola, Apple and others on features, it’ll be roadkill. If it makes the right choices and focuses on a solid, simple set of features, it might find a comfortable niche.
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