As the wearable space becomes increasingly crowded, Pebble is holding strong amid stiff competition. Companies like Fitbit and Garmin are trying to turn fitness trackers into all-purpose smartwatches, but Pebble’s CEO Eric Migicovsky is making sure that Pebble does “a couple things really really well.” That’s the premise behind Pebble’s newest and most unique device, the Pebble Core smart running module. It’s a tiny computer that tracks running and can sync with your Spotify account so you really don’t have to take your phone with you on a workout anymore.
The Core is Pebble’s first non-smartwatch product. It’s a small square with rounded edges and two circular indents on its front. The larger is the main button for starting and stopping tracking, and the smaller one in the corner, in true Pebble fashion, can be hacked to perform a number of features. You could program it to send an emergency text to someone when you leave your phone at home, call an Uber when you find yourself in a pinch, or a number of other things. On the top side of the core is a hold slider and a headphone jack, and the device is Bluetooth ready so you can connect wired or wireless headphones to it.
Aside from Bluetooth, the Core is Wi-Fi ready, and it has a 3G modem, 4GB of storage, and a GPS to map runs. Migicovsky describes it as a “tiny computer running Android 5.0,” so it could end up being much more than a clip-on running monitor. Migicovsky went so far as to say that you might be able to use the Core’s smaller button to open your garage door or even find your keys if you leave the device attached to a key ring. Pebble’s history of making its devices open to the developer community makes a device like the Core quite appealing since its small size lets it take on many functions depending on the features people develop for it.
But the whole point of the Core is to free yourself from your phone while you run. If you pay for Spotify, the device will start streaming selected playlists as soon as you start tracking a workout. The device can also connect to other apps like Under Armour Record, Strava, RunKeeper, and MapMyRun so you can sync your data to your preferred program. The Core comes with a small wireless charging pad, and the battery is meant to last up to nine hours while tracking runs and streaming music. That’s not as good as smartwatches with larger batteries, of course, but considering that continuous GPS use is included in the battery life projection, it’s a decent lifespan.
Maintaining the smartwatch family
In addition to the Pebble Core, two more new Pebble products are joining the lineup. The Pebble 2 is the first big update to the original Pebble, and somewhat surprisingly, the Pebble Time 2 will be replacing the original Pebble Time and Time Steel as the “fashionable” gadget option.
After seeing so much of the Time and the Time Steel since their launch over a year ago, it was refreshing to see Migicovsky hold up the Pebble 2. It’s similar in design to the original Pebble, and it now has a scratch-resistant display, a built-in microphone for voice commands and note-taking, a water resistance level of up to 30 meters, and a built-in AMS optical heart rate monitor on its underside. Migicovsky told us that even with continuous heart rate monitoring during exercise and resting heart rate readings every ten minutes throughout the day, the Pebble 2 should last up to a week before needing a charge.
With the Pebble Time 2, the company listened to its customers and fixed one of the biggest complaints about the first iteration. Pebble shrunk the bezel around the display, so while the new device has the same dimensions as the Time Steel, its display is 53 percent larger. It’s the most high-end Pebble device you can get with gold, silver, and black finishes and leather band options (similar to the Pebble Time Round), but it also has the same built-in heart rate monitor as the Pebble 2. Like its predecessor, the Pebble Time 2 is slightly thicker than the Pebble 2, but that’s because it has a larger battery that’s capable of powering the device for up to 10 days.
One of the last major updates from Pebble introduced the Timeline UI, which lets users see what’s happening during their day. The company wanted to supplement that UI with two new features: “peaking” notifications and smart actions. The notifications are specific to your Timeline and separate from smartphone alerts. When an event is coming up on your Timeline—a work meeting, say—a small notification will pop up on the bottom of your watch’s screen. It will stay there despite any other alerts coming through, so you can glance down and know what’s next on your to-do list. This feature makes things slightly more convenient than before; in the past, you would have had to press the bottom button on the side of the watches to go forward in your timeline and see what’s up next.
Smart actions, in contrast, make use of Pebble watches’ side buttons. Instead of the top button revealing what has already passed in your timeline, it reveals a set of quick actions you can program to your device. Migicovsky told me that the idea behind this feature was to make common actions that much easier to initiate. The best example is sending a text message: most smartwatch demos show how you can reply to messages others send you, but rarely do you see how you can start a conversation from the device.
With smart actions, you can tap the top side button to open up the menu, select the “send a text” option, and the device will send a pre-fab message to your default recipient. This feature isn’t meant to start different conversations with multiple people. Instead, it simply makes it easier to contact someone you text regularly and send a simple message.
The Pebble Core aside, these new devices show how the company is trying to consolidate and refine its product line. Whereas companies like Fitbit and Garmin are making more devices to serve every type of person, Pebble is almost taking the opposite approach. It’s also staying true to its developer community, giving it access to smart actions and the Pebble Core, as well as the established Pebble app store.
In a way, Pebble is leaving the potential for each device up to its community, which is a smart move but also one that removes a lot of control from the company. Pebble took the same approach with the smart straps it announced over a year ago—developers could make their own straps that added features to Pebble’s devices—but few of those have yet to come to fruition. With no hardware hurdles to overcome, Pebble developers will hopefully be able to make more complicated smart actions and realize new uses for the Core.
The new Pebble devices will be available on Kickstarter soon and available for preorder in the fall. The Pebble Core costs $69 on Kickstarter and will be $99 when it’s widely available for purchase. The Pebble 2 will be $99 on Kickstarter and then $129 when it goes on sale, while the Pebble Time 2 will be $169 on Kickstarter and $199 at retail.