Pebble has been in an interesting situation. The start-up that has won over many users with their smartwatch (the self-titled Pebble), like all good rock stars, has to deal with the difficult second album. How do you announce your next watch without damaging both the sales of your first smartwatch, and do so without upsetting the community of supporters that has built up around the Pebble since it first appeared on Kickstarter?
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They’ve answered that question today at CES with the unveiling of Pebble Steel.
The second design from Pebble is functionally the same as the classic design – with a similar e-paper display, battery life, waterproofing, and utility. The main difference is that the Pebble Steel is constructed with forged steel for a more masculine and fashionable look, and now includes a multi-color LED for alerts.
Priced at $249 and available in Brushed Stainless and Black Matte versions, both options also ship with a matching metal band and a black leather strap. The hardware remains the same as the original Pebble watch, so there is no Osborne effect on the older hardware, and the price difference (the original Pebble retails at $150) should not leave anyone feeling out-of-pocket or cheated.
The approach reminds me of the early days of Palm Computing. After the success of the functional and plastic Palm III, Jeff Hawkins’ next design was for “an ultra-thin fashion statement.” This would become the Palm V, a PDA with the exact same functionality as the Palm 3, which remained on sale alongside the newer handset. ”I was a little Jobsian in this, because I refused to put any new features into the Palm V,” recalled Hawkins for the book ‘Piloting Palm’. “I wanted to make it clear to everyone what the goal was. The goal was beauty. Beauty, beauty, beauty… I wanted them to say ‘They’ve come out with a new product that’s just beautiful’.”
Given a number of former Palm employees are with Pebble, I think that’s both a nice echo of the past and a clear description of Pebble’s plans with the Pebble Steel.
This move returns the Palo Alto based company to the front of the smartwatch movement. While a number of smartwatch options are available, the Pebble software (coupled with the third-party applications available) is more flexible and usable than the offerings from larger manufactures, notably Sony and Samsung. But the ‘geek chic’ style the original Pebble offered put many people off. Comments such as ‘call me when it looks like a watch’ are easily found in many reviews.
Last year Pebble made the smartphone concept into a workable device. This year it looks like they’re going to make it fashionable.
Pebble Steel watches are available from getpebble.com for £249. The original Pebble watch design is still available in black, grey, red, white, or orange, for $150.
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