CES is obsessed with new tech. The first smart this, the first smart that. Ultra HDR Premium 4K, your old TV sucks type announcements. Away from the gigantic, glossy stands, Pebble‘s CEO Eric Migicovsky is running around chatting to the makers of his favourite wearable tech Kickstarter campaigns (Bragi Dash, Avegant Glyph, his cousin’s custom in-ears project Revols) in the smaller, more hectic halls of the trade show. This is the “real CES”.
He’s not in Vegas to announce anything new and shiny. Apart from the launch of the Pebble Time Round (coming soon to the UK and Europe), Pebble has spent the last six months doing precisely the opposite. Instead, it has made existing Pebble watches more useful with Pebble Health and brought its latest software to its original $99 device.
What’s next? For 2016 at least, Pebble is all about the health and fitness game.
Health and fitness focus in 2016
Here’s where Pebble is at: it knows health is important to the future of wearables and the data shows that Pebble users wear their smartwatches more now that they can track activity and sleep with a native, easy to use app. That’s encouraging. Keeping its work with Stanford on Pebble Health, which it tested against all its rivals, focussing on Fitbit. Open source is key, but Migicovsky is still analysing what is working, or not working, for rivals.
When I asked Pebble’s CEO if he is considering adding a more fitness focussed device to his series of do-it-all watches, he pointed to examples of wearable tech companies moving in the opposite direction. And struggling.
“Like a Garmin watch? I don’t think we’ve figured out our angle yet,” he said. “There’s a lot of these really niche devices. You saw what happened on Tuesday with Fitbit right? The moment you start to veer away from that niche into a more multi purpose device, it gets really hazy quickly. So we need to be really careful and think about what our take is.”
Still, he is seeing a lot more health and wellness apps for Pebble, which he is reluctant to refer to as medical use cases. “In 2016 we see health and fitness being a massive area of focus for us. We’ve seen, just with the introduction of Pebble Health, a lot of changes to people’s habits in a good way. Any kind of wrist based tracking is never ultimately the perfect tracking but I think we’ve got a spectacularly good offering.”
In the short term, Pebble users should expect Timeline pins for Pebble Health pretty soon – these were discussed at launch but haven’t appeared yet. Further down the line, conversational, contextual, motivational pins will be placed on your Timeline too.
Pebble apps for good
If you buy into Migicovsky’s narrative, the industry is on the cusp of a new surge of innovative apps for smartwatches and wearable tech. Some of the interesting examples aren’t as mainstream as say, Instagram or Uber were for the smartphone but they are arguably more important.
“Take this guy who started tracking his wife’s seizures,” he said. “Why shouldn’t it be possible for him to write a Pebble app (Pebble Seizure Detect) so that if she suffers from a seizure or feels like she’s about to have one, it would automatically message him from the watch. He did it, it works and many people are using it.
“There’s a lot of value in having this multi purpose device on your wrist,” he continued. “The same is true for people who are tracking their glucose levels with diabetes, that’s been a big area for us. There’s thousands of families that currently use Pebble to do that. That’s not the largest group of people but it’s a symbol of what’s next. Now that smartwatches have proved themselves as something that people buy and put on their wrist, the question is – what’s next? The iPhone sold enough of smartphones that generated the next wave of these use cases.”
Smartstraps are starting to emerge
Another aspect of Pebble’s 2015 attempts to power up its existing line of smartwatches is its open Smartstraps platform. Some have fallen by the wayside such as Ripple, the solar powered strap, which didn’t make its Kickstarter target.
But both FitPay, which is building a payments strap for Pebble Time watches, and the gesture based Aria strap were showing off their latest prototypes at CES 2016. And, in a big milestone, Seedstudio’s Smartstrap which is made up of different modules, aimed at makers and hackers, is now actually shipping.
“As I said six months ago, the idea is not that it’s going to change overnight and everyone is going to start buying them,” said Migicovsky. “It’s coming along. Now there’s the chance to build on the hardware.”
In fact, as we finish up our catch up chat, Pebble’s founder is making plans to stop by Innomdle Lab’s Eureka Park booth to try out Tip Talk. “That’s crazy. They should make a Smartstrap…”