I remember speaking to a Pebble spokesperson, after the startup's first round of Kickstarter success, about the company's philosophy and CEO Eric Migicovky's experience building what was essentially the proto-Pebble, the InPulse smartwatch.
We also talked a lot about the company's approach to fitness. Back then, it was about having an open platform where Pebble partnered with the experts like Jawbone and Misfit to bring those activity tracking features to its smartwatches and become the bridge for third party health and fitness apps.
How things have changed. Pebble announced its Health platform late last year bringing native activity and sleep tracking to Pebble Time watches and working closely with Stanford's Wearable Health Lab. Now we have not one, but three fitness focused wearables including its first non-smartwatch device, the Pebble Core, that's designed for runners. So why has Pebble shifted its focus for its newest additions to health and fitness? Well, it has the data to prove the time was right to offer something a little bit different.
When we spoke to Migicovsky back in January, he told us that Pebble users wear their smartwatches more now that they can track activity and sleep with a native app. He also said health and fitness would be a massive area of focus for the company. There's no disputing that fitness trackers are still the leading light for wearable technology. Analysts predict that global revenues from connected fitness trackers will increase from around $2 billion in 2014 to $5.4 billion by 2019. These are huge numbers and it's no wonder Pebble wants a piece of the action.
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That doesn't mean it's not a surprising move from a company that has struggled to break away from its geeky origins. "The moment you start to veer away from that niche into a more multi purpose device, it gets really hazy quickly. So we need to be really careful and think about what our take is," Eric told us at CES. The Pebble Core, with its built-in GPS and third party fitness app support could be the device to help break free from its nerdy shackles, but it's venturing into the world where Fitbit, Xiaomi and an emerging Garmin are big players.
This shift in focus to health and fitness will also have an effect on Pebble Smartstraps. The platform has been open to developers to create accessories for the smartwatch line for more than a year. We've been promised mobile payments and gesture controls, but the ability to add health and fitness features like GPS and heart rate monitoring felt like one of the biggest reasons for Smartstraps to exist. What does this mean for the Powerstrap Pal GPS-toting Smartstrap we wrote about only last week? The roll out has been slow, and I can't help thinking whether the whole platform makes any sense now when Pebble looks intent to add these features themselves.
We won't know until we see what kind of numbers Pebble rings up on Kickstarter and we get our hands on the sporty smartwatch (and wearable) bunch to know whether the health and fitness angle was the right play. It's clearly a move a Pebble needs to get right though, especially when it's in the process of having to scale back its workforce.
The appetite for a geek chic smartwatch only gets you so far. Will loyal Pebble fans love the new approach? Or will Pebble be able to expand its customer base while keeping existing fans happy with updates and Smartstraps? I'm very intrigued to see what kind of reception the Pebble 2, Pebble Time 2 and especially the Pebble Core get.