I’m getting a little irritated with the glowing success stories about the Pebble Time smartwatch. I have to admit that I was caught up in the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign; the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel have now captured (as of publication time) over $18.7 million dollars in pledges and over 73,000 backers. But is the Pebble Time even in the same ballpark as the soon-to-arrive Apple Watch? Hell, no.
As of December 31, 2014, Pebble reported that it had sold one million smartwatches between the original Pebble and Pebble Steel. Sure, that sounds great, but let’s look at what some Wall Street analysts are forecasting for Apple’s Watch:
- UBS — Steve Milunovich: Expects 6 million units to be sold between April 24 and June 30, with 10 million per quarter after that. That’s 26 million units in 2015.
- Evercore ISI — Rob Cihra: He expects 18 million units to be sold in 2015, accounting for $10 billion in revenue.
- BMO Capital Markets — Keith Bachman: Expects 19 million units to be sold in 2015 at an average selling price of $420.
That’s just a sampling, but you can see the trend — each of these analysts expects sales to be above 18 million for the calendar year. Over the past few years, these same analysts have been very conservative — and wrong — with their iPhone sales estimates. Even if the smartwatch market expands in 2015 because of new public awareness of the class of devices, I’d expect the Apple Watch to drastically cut into Pebble’s sales — even at the lower entry price points of $179 for the Pebble Time and $250 for the Pebble Time Steel.
Now I do believe there’s a place in the market for Pebble Time, as the Pebble platform has a vibrant developer community for both iPhone and Android apps, the price point is lower and the new displays are much improved on the first-generation Pebble devices. Android Wear is even less of a competitor, with only about 500,000 devices sold in 2014 according to sources. Those half-million devices are split among a host of competitors, all of which are probably wondering why they chose to get into the smartwatch market.
Pebble does have some selling points that could give it an edge if early adopters of the Apple Watch are unhappy with their devices, something I seriously doubt will happen. Rather than requiring daily recharging, the Pebble Time and Time Steel are expected to have a week of battery life. The watches can use any standard 22mm watch band, opening them to a huge variety of currently available bands. The company expects to add support for a “smart accessory port” later in 2015, which could provide a way to add more sensors to the device.
What does Apple bring to the game with the Watch?
A much nicer display: Pebble says the new Time will have a “…1.25-inch color e-paper display”. No word on the resolution of that display. Apple Watch will have a Retina display (meaning 300 pixels or more per inch).
A Force Touch interface: Pebble is all about the side buttons. Watch has a button and the digital crown, but the innovative Force Touch display is a primary interface element.
Support: AppleCare Pro and local Apple Stores should provide both live technical support and the ability to take the Watch directly into stores for replacement or repair. Pebble offers a one-year warranty and a good website, but dropping your ailing Pebble Time into a shipping box is no substitute for being able to actually talk to a real live person or hand a broken Watch to someone at a store near you.
Integration: Apple Watch apps are being created by a number of iOS developers, which means that it’s very likely that many of the top iOS apps will feature tighter integration with Watch than they’d ever be able to achieve with Pebble. Want to send an email, Message, or voice reply on your Watch? No problem. Try to do the same with Pebble and you’re limited to providing a voice reply to Google notifications.
HealthKit: Yes, Pebble Time has “step tracking for Misfit and Jawbone”, a RunTracker companion app. Apple Watch will have integration with the entire HealthKit framework through the iPhone, a heart rate sensor to measure the intensity of your activity, the ability to watch just how much you’re moving (or not), an Activity app (with iPhone counterpart in the Watch app), and probably integration with most major fitness apps within a short time of launch.
HomeKit: Expect your Apple Watch to have deep integration with the HomeKit home automation framework as well. Tap the Watch to lock or unlock a door, turn off lights? Sure – it’s not here yet, but soon.
A real app store: The Pebble Smartwatch App provides a way to browse and discover apps for the Pebble. Most of those appear to be watch faces. While I assume that watch faces will be a fun item on the Watch as well, we’ll see vetted apps with a tried and true delivery and update system.
I could go on, but I won’t. The next time I hear someone refer to an Apple Watch with a price that starts at $349 as expensive compared to the Pebble Time — which hasn’t shipped yet either, by the way — I’m just going to shake my head and walk away. There’s no fighting stupid.