The Pebble smartwatch is more popular than ever with 1 million units sold, but at this point you may want to wait for the next version.
CEO Eric Migicovsky told The Verge that Pebble is moving to a new software platform later this year, with updated hardware to match. Apps will no longer be the focus, he said, as Pebble has developed “a new framework to use as an interaction model on the watch.”
“It doesn’t look like what we have today, and it doesn’t look like what’s on your smartphone,” Migicovsky said. He didn’t get into specifics on what the hardware and software might look like.
Why this matters: It’s no surprise that Pebble is cooking up new smartwatches to replace its nearly 2-year-old hardware, but a change of direction vis-a-vis software was less of a given. The current platform has more than 6,000 apps and watchfaces, and has seen a steady influx of new features over the last year. But with tougher competition looming from the Apple Watch, mere revisions to the existing platform may not be enough. Until we know more about how current Pebble devices will be affected, potential buyers may want to proceed with caution.
Figuring out the wrist
Migicovsky’s comments underscore how much uncertainty there is in the smartwatch space. It seems like everyone’s interested in making a smartwatch, but no one can agree on the software formula.
Google’s Android Wear platform is based largely on notifications, serving them up at just the right time with small doses of interactivity. The Apple Watch has a similar system for notifications, but puts a greater emphasis on apps you can launch from the wrist. It also introduces new interaction models, such as the “digital crown” that lets you scroll without touching the screen. Samsung, meanwhile, has tried to move as much smartphone functionality as possible onto the wrist, even letting its watches run independently with their own SIM cards.
As for Pebble, its current platform is largely focused on augmenting the traditional watch. It has thousands of watch faces to choose from, and its always-on display runs for days on a charge. Notifications and apps are practically bonus features, as Pebble’s low-resolution monochrome display limits how much the user can see and do.
The challenge for Pebble will be to maintain its unique properties while becoming capable enough to compete with its larger rivals. We’ll see how the company plans to do that later this year. Until then, the current Pebble could still be a fine impulse buy for the curious, though it may not be on the cutting edge of wearable tech for long.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.