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Interview With CEO Eric Migicovsky on The Future Of Pebble Smartwatches

Jan 30 2014, 7:39am CST | by , in News | Technology News

Interview With CEO Eric Migicovsky on The Future Of Pebble Smartwatches
 
 

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Interview With CEO Eric Migicovsky on The Future Of Pebble Smartwatches

The amazing success of the Pebble e-ink screen smartwatch campaign from 2012 was a moment of glory for the company’s founder and CEO Eric Migicovsky. Raising over $10,000,000 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, it not only gave Migicovsky the money he had searched in vain to raise from more traditional investors to start his business, but also the headaches and rewards of founding the modern mainstream smartwatch industry.

January 2014 is more or less the one year anniversary of when the Pebble watch started production. In one year’s time the smartwatch and wearables industry has exploded. Sure a lot of it is hype as many offer the promise of life changing gadgets, but the Pebble itself is real and according to most experts it is the best of breed when it comes to current smartwatch technology. Pebble has continued to gain support by users in a market that is often not quite ready for prime time. Depending on your perspective smartwatches are either an interesting and appealing emerging tech segment or another impractical technological solution to a problem that nobody has.

Pebble on the other hands is perhaps rare for not over promising, but rather pleasantly surprising fans with regular product improvements. This is a lesson in prudence they likely learned after their crowd funding campaign. After raising a relatively huge amount of money, the company was faced with production setbacks and struggled to release their product (which they eventually did of course). For 2014 Pebble released a new watch called the Pebble Steel. Similar to the original Pebble in terms of functionality, the Pebble Steel is offered in a more attractive case now produced from metal. The goal for them is to go (a bit) more mainstream.

Is the Pebble smartwatch ready for prime time? I speak with their CEO Eric Migicovsky about the Pebble of today and of tomorrow to get a good gauge of where they and the overall smartwatch industry is headed.

Ariel Adams (AA): The biggest topic at CES 2014 was wearable devices such as smartwatches. A few years ago when you guys started Pebble did you think the wearables concept would be so big so fast? What do you feel is the cause of the interest in the smartwatch and wearables segment?

Eric Migicovsky (EM): I am so excited by the positive reception from consumers and developers. I hoped that people would like it, and I’m very proud of our team and the strong community of partners, like Mercedes and Yelp, who are working with us to bring even more cool apps and experiences to peoples’ wrists around the world.

I think one factor behind the growing interest in the smartwatch category is that people find real value in having information easily accessible to them. And, a watch is such a great entry point for all kinds of information because it’s right there on your wrist, it’s easy to see and generally people wear them every day.

AA: Assume for a moment that I am an average consumer and want to know what a smartwatch can do now or in the near future to improve my life. What facts should I know? What should I be excited about?

EM: One of the coolest things about Pebble is that it connects you to all of the powerful apps on your smartphone. It delivers the right bits of information to your wrist and really minimizes the number of times you have to pull your phone out of your pocket, purse, etc. Among other things, I use apps to track my sleep and to check the distance of my bike rides. I can also read texts from friends and family and receive calendar reminders for my next business meetings. Pebble is a product that appeals to individuals for different reasons — everyone seems to find their own value from the product.

AA: Most people would agree that the new for 2014 Pebble Steel – with its more attractive case and bracelet – is an attempt to make the Pebble smartwatch more mainstream. Is that the goal? Why is now the right time for a more style-friendly smartwatch?

EM: We wanted to give consumers a dressier smartwatch option, so that’s why we ended up giving them a choice between two kinds of premium materials, be it leather or metal band. At the end of the day, we want to develop as powerful a product as possible, at a price point that makes it accessible and appealing to as many people as possible.

Now is the right time to be thinking about a smartwatch because the technology is there and people are ready for it. What we’ve shown with Pebble is that when you have the right combination of cool features and watch options, that’s when people are going to care about smartwatches. I’m sure that we’ll see different types of hardware down the line, but ultimately, I think most of the developments are going to be software. That’s the real value for the user.

AA: The function of most smartwatches is to connect via Bluetooth to internet connected devices such as smartphones. Is that enough in your opinion for smartwatches to continue growing as a category, or do they need to do more in order to really grow?

EM: I think we’ll continue to see a lot of innovation in app and software development, but there is so much possibility for where all of this can go. Beyond smartphones, we’re already seeing new use cases where you can use your Pebble to connect to everything, whether it’s your car, your thermostat or your home alarm system.

AA: It is easy for outsiders to complain about the technology of emerging devices such as smartwatches. That is because they really aren’t aware of the engineering challenges company’s at the forefront of development face. So with that said what are some of the biggest technical challenges you have overcome or continue to overcome in the process of making a good smartwatch?

EM: Making a great smartwatch experience for consumers is not a simple thing to build. There’s the hardware, the software interface and making the watch OS open and available to the developer community for them to build on, so that they can write one app for Pebble that works with both iOS and Android. And then there’s selling this idea of a smartwatch to consumers and getting that right. It’s not easy, but we’re really excited about the progress we’re making. Our focus has been on creating a product that meshes seamlessly into your everyday life, exactly as a regular watch would.

AA: It is impossible to speak about smartwatches for more than a few minutes without talking about what major companies such as Apple and Google have in mind for the category. Is Pebble concerned about their participation in the market or would they be a welcome addition to the growing area. What do you feel when people mention the prospect of an iWatch to you in casual conversation?

EM: Competition from major players isn’t really new in this space. Five or six years ago, Sony Ericsson had a smartwatch called the MBW Series. Motorola had the MotoActiv. Casio even makes a smartwatch. So, if Google or Apple release their own smartwatches, it won’t be the first time that a big player has taken on the category. New entrants are a good thing because it means more choices and better products for consumers.

We’ve been working on smartwatches exclusively for five+ years. We’re not tied to any legacy products and we understand what consumers want. They want a watch that works with whatever phone they have. We’re compatible with iOS and Android, no fine print reading required. They also want a watch that’s durable, simple to use, has a long battery life, and runs apps that help make their lives easier.

AA: The launch of the Pebble Appstore takes the product into a whole new category of personal customization allowing your smartwatch to do so much more than merely offer basic phone notifications. What has been it been like to get developers to work with you? What do they like about your platform? How important is installing apps in the overall Pebble user experience these days?

EM: We have an amazing developer community that we work very closely with. A lot of people aren’t necessarily building these apps for other people to use. They’re building a product that solves a problem for them in their everyday life, and it’s really awesome to see what people are creating. Because we’ve made Pebble an open platform, anyone who wants to create something cool can write an app for it. And now, with the Pebble appstore coming, these developers will be able display their app in front of hundreds of thousands of Pebble users, all without building anything new or coding anything differently.

Being able to install apps directly to your smartwatch is really going to impact the user experience. Instead of having to rely on forums, third-party sites, and independent download pages, users will be able to access the apps directly within the Pebble appstore. It lives right within the Pebble app for iOS and Android, so it’s super easy to search, browse and install an array of killer free apps on your Pebble smartwatch.

AA: Not to gloss over the impressive achievements you’ve had so far, but what are your hopes for the next three to five years? What technologies are you hoping will improve in the market that will make your products better? What will a future Pebble watch do that one today cannot? Who will be wearing a Pebble a few years from now that isn’t wearing one today?

EM: I’m somewhat of a science fiction geek, and I’m enormously happy to play a small part in bringing sci-fi to reality. In some ways, Pebble is a step toward the meshing of computers with humans, providing a more casual and accessible human-computer interface (HCI) than you would normally see coming out of a university lab. Like the way you can use your Pebble to connect to other devices beside your smartphone. And as the so-called “Internet of Things” evolves, I think you’ll be able to connect your Pebble to even more devices in your home — maybe even to sensors in your body.

AA: The traditional watch industry seems to have a rather nonchalant attitude toward the smartwatch market. What are you learning from them as they remain stationary? When do you think someone wearing a traditional high-end or luxury watch will take it off in favor of a smartwatch device?

EM: We know that the early growth for Pebble was fueled in large part by the tech-leaning, early adopter consumers. But, as we grow, we’re seeing adoption across all categories of consumers — just look at the Mercedes app for Pebble. We’re excited to make our products easy to use, attractive and a real complement to anyone’s day-to-day life.

AA: What are some of the ways you’ve found that wearing a smartwatch improves your own life? What are some of the features of a Pebble that continue to wow you? What features are you the most excited about sharing with others?

EM: What’s really cool about Pebble is that it connects you to all of the powerful apps on your smartphone. I can get emails or retrieve other information so that I don’t have to take out my phone all the time. Like when I’m riding my bike. It also works with iOS and Android so you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues. I’ve been blown away by the breadth of apps that our community of developers have created, and I’m really excited about being able to share all of these with consumers when our appstore launches. We’ve always talked about how we can help people find apps for Pebble—that’s part of our core competency.

 Ariel Adams publishes the watch review site aBlogtoWatch.com.

Source: Forbes

 

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