What makes Pebble's Eric Migicovsky tick

We chat Kickstarter, Smartstraps and the future of smartwatches with Pebble's CEO
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Eric Migicovsky wants to know which Pebble Time catches my eye. And what kind of Smartstrap I'd want to connect to his new smartwatch. And what cinema ticket sites we have in the UK that could send information to Pebble's new Timeline UI.

He's excited.

I'm getting my eyes and wrists on the Pebble Time and Time Steel at MWC, a day or so before Pebble's Kickstarter total clicks over to become the biggest Kickstarter ever.

Read this: Pebble Time v Apple Watch

When he reveals the Time Steel from inside a ruggedised box ("the elephant in the room") he's so enthusiastic to show it off I'm not sure he realises he's just done a Steve Jobs: "People like different looks and that's why we have interchangeable straps, " he says removing a piece of cloth from the three Time Steel models. "But we had to do one more thing. We had to give people one other look that they could choose."

"You're one of the first people in the world to actually see the new device itself," Migicovsky says, leaning forward so he doesn't miss my reaction to a single feature and checking I have enough light for my hands on photos. "It's a really nice thing to see in person."

Your phone can't do this

At 6'5, Pebble's CEO might be more Goliath than David in stature but he's still very much the underdog. An underdog with a million users and a $16m and counting crowdfunding campaign but an underdog, nonetheless.

"I can't speak for the competitors but what I can speak for is me," he says. "When I started working on this about seven years ago, I was a student living in a dorm and I didn't feel comfortable about buying a $500 watch. And I just thought I might as well start a company to make a $150 watch. Unfortunately, it would have cost a bit more than $500 to start a company so I was out a little but in the long run, we can now make great smartwatches that I as a user I would want to buy."

Read this: Pebble Time first look

In line with his original mission, the Time is open - both in its hardware with Smartstraps and software with Timeline - and it's affordable - the Time started at $159 on Kickstarter and the $250 Time Steel comes with both leather and stainless steel straps.

Throughout our chat, there's no talk of world domination, of wanting to get a Pebble watch on every wrist and I'm fairly sure he doesn't use the word 'experience' once. Like the Pebble itself, Migicovsky is straightforward and simple to understand. No jargon, no hot air.

"If you look at Timeline, it's doing something that a phone can't do," he explains. "There's nothing on your phone that can gather information from all these different apps to give you a detailed view of your day. Same thing with Smartstraps. Your phone isn't on your wrist and your phone can't connect directly to all these different sensors. Pebble can and it's the only smartwatch that does."

Apple Watch? Really?


Pebble has had a headstart, launching its first smartwatch in early 2012 before many of the big players in this wave of wearable tech launches had anything to show off. And Migicovsky isn't shy about giving his opinions on what he's seen in the past year or two.

"This is about organising what's relevant in your day, at a glance, without becoming this behemoth of everything under the sun on your wrist," he says. "Personally, when I saw the Apple Watch, they had this clock in the middle of a homescreen and all these little circles of apps around it, I was just like 'really?'

"Because I have a homescreen and I barely ever download new apps because it has enough things on it already. This isn't what I want. I want something that can automatically change and evolve as I do new things but be something that I can rely on infinitely."

Still, he's excited about the awareness that the Apple Watch will bring to wearable tech as a whole. Especially as he'll be sitting pretty with his sub-$200 iPhone compatible smartwatch.

"Think about how few people know about smartwatches today and how many people will know about smartwatches when the Apple Watch comes out."

I ask if he's prepared to make millions of Pebble Times to cater to those who perhaps can't afford an Apple Watch - just compare the gold finish and red strapped Pebble to the real gold (and as yet not priced) Apple Watch Edition - and the thought has obviously occurred to the company.

"We're prepared. I mean, look at what happened on the first day of the Kickstarter campaign," he says.

Pebble loves you back


Not that many people know what smartwatches can do but Migicovsky doesn't have huge billboards on London roundabouts like Samsung does for its Gear range, or 12 page ads in American Vogue like Apple.

So far, though, Migicovsky's doing everything right. Pundits have accused the company of having immature leadership for using Kickstarter as a store for its third and fourth products, changing the concept of the platform, but Pebble sees the move as simply referring to its roots.

"We're on Kickstarter so it's self-referential," says Migicovsky. "If we're on Kickstarter then that's what a Kickstarter project is."

Pebble Time backers can easily upgrade to the Steel without losing their place in line, repeat backers will get an special engraving and Timeline UI is coming to the older devices too. And the fact that the screen remains the same dimensions (which does make it on the small size, especially with those bezels) means all those 4,000 watch faces and 2,500+ Pebble apps will work with the new smartwatches.

I tell him he has the geek community sewn up and it's clear he loves them back. He shows me a Minecraft-style world simulator that a dev built in a day last week and says he'd love it if someone built a GameBoy Colour emulator for the Pebble Time after the comparisons between the displays.

"They love Pebble and we love them. Timeline UI will be coming to the Pebble and Pebble Steel a couple of months after the Time comes out in May - we're supporting the people who supported us."

TAGGED Smartwatches

How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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