With Apple unveiling a luxury-skewed smart watch, and Android releasing software to many manufacturers making their own smart watches, one startup, Pebble, is betting there's more than enough room for a third major manufacturer.
To that effect, Pebble — known for having a battery that lasts and a screen that's always on — is adding activity and sleep tracking as part of a software update to all of the more than 400,000 smart watches it has shipped. With today's update, Pebble owners will be able to track their activity — even swimming — and sleep using software created by other activity-tracking companies like Jawbone and Misfit. Overnight, what was once a smart watch with a portfolio of apps will also become an activity tracker, CEO Eric Migicovsky said.
"Apple is taking one smart watch strategy which revolves around the luxury angle, creating a really high-end quality product with good materials. I think they've made a very Apple-y stab at the problem," Migicovsky told BuzzFeed News. "I'm the first to admit it's a great-looking product, it's beautiful, I could see someone swapping out their Rolex. [Google's approach is] a little like strapping an Android phone to your wrist, they're still figuring out the use cases. We've been working on it for several years and we know what people do with smart watches, which is tell the time. We're the smart watch that's affordable that does the right things, it's not an overly complicated smart phone on your wrist, and it gets better over time."
Many wearable device creators are placing increased importance on sleep-tracking, as previously detailed by BuzzFeed News. Whole companies, like San Francisco-based startup Hello, are springing up with devices centered around sleep-tracking, and the addition to Pebble comes at a time when smart watches like the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices have batteries that need to be recharged every night. That makes them unreliable for sleep tracking, while the Pebble smart watch will only see a marginal reduction in battery — about a half day of its typical week-long battery, Migicovsky said.
Migicovsky said the addition of sleep tracking was partly inspired by his own odd sleeping hours, and tracking his sleep helped get him in the right mindset. Others have agreed: "Every day, it seems, there's a new study speaking to the irrefutable benefits of sleep on our health, our productivity, our creativity, and our decision-making ability," Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington told BuzzFeed News in an earlier interview.
Activity-tracking, too, has become a core part of most smart devices, including smartphones. Apple's latest operating system, iOS 8, includes a swath of software tools called HealthKit that help iPhone owners track their overall health and activity. Still, sleep-tracking is not something that appears included, and seems to otherwise be limited by the Apple Watch's requirement to be charged often. Pebble is opening up some of the watch to activity-tracker developers in order to run apps in the background, but anyone is actually able to develop apps for the watch — which has more than 4,000 apps available.
The company also said it would drop the price of its smart watch to $99 for the standard edition, and $199 for the higher-quality production Pebble Steel smart watch. That puts it at roughly one fourth of the cost of the Apple Watch at its lowest estimated price point, and cheaper than many Android Wear devices, while being compatible with most major smartphones instead of being dependent on a single operating system like iOS and Android.
Pebble also said it was rolling out to retailers internationally today as well. The company has shipped its smart watches to customers in more than 150 countries, and Migicovsky said adding the device to retailers is the best way to help it spread with word of mouth marketing from existing customers.
Historically, there has been room for a cheap option in the smartphone market, with cheaper Android phones helping Google capture a dominating share of the number of smartphones shipping with its operating system. Apple has traditionally been seen as a higher-priced, higher-end device — and that has continued with the Apple Watch, with luxury editions estimated to be priced in the thousands of dollars.