Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pebble: it's about the apps

With a US ad budget approaching $1 billion, Samsung is now plastering the airwaves (including my Sunday football games) with ads for its $300 Galaxy Gear. Analysts say it’s a better ad than product.

My gripe is that it implies that Samsung invented the first practical smartwatch with its $300 Galaxy Gear. But any technophile worth his (or her) salt knows that the modern category begins with the record Kickstarter success story, the Pebble.

Still, Samsung’s ad barage is going to develop the product category and make people aware that this option is available. Today Best Buy gives online customers a chance to compare the various products side by side — and soon this will come to the physical stores, even if both products will be shut out of the Apple Store.

But what will the smartwatch pioneer do, with its $35m in outside funds dwarfed by the big boys? Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky says the story is in the apps:

The next step for us is how we can incentivize and encourage developers to hack on Pebble and create new interfaces. We’ve already started building them, but there’s a ton of hardware out there. There’s Fitbit and Jawbone and all this fitness stuff that’s really built on top of the exact same hardware that Pebble is built on, except those platforms are not open.

So with Pebble, say for example you’re a researcher working in a university on an accelerometer-based gesture app. Instead of having to build your own hardware, you can now build an app for Pebble and market it to the existing user base.
Not every potential platform attracts third party apps. If I were at Pebble hoping to be saved by apps, my first step would be to emphasize (and improve) the cross-platform compatibility against Apple and Samsung.

I'd also target the internal developers of big corporations. The major app vendors (e.g. iHeartRadio) will gladly do what it takes to provide compatibility separately with the Gear and (rumored) iWatch, but corporate developers would appreciate having one “watch” that supports both Android and iPhone clients.

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