However you interpret the cheeky tweets posted by smart watch maker Pebble during the release of Apple’s new smart watch, it’s hard to deny the company will be impacted by its new competition. Most executives like to shrug off competitors, explaining the ways their offering is different or superior. “We’re focused on ourselves” is a common line.
By any measure, Pebble—a small, 100-person company—is a success. It is currently the popular smart watch maker, outselling Samsung’s Gear and Motorola’s Moto 360. It is even the bestselling smart watch on Amazon.com. Last year Pebble sold 600,000 smart watches, accounting for an estimated $60 million in revenue. Its February crowdfunding campaign for the Pebble Time has raised more than $17 million, making it the largest ever crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
But when $732 billion Apple (AAPL) moves into your company’s category, ignoring the competition doesn’t work. Pebble is preparing for battle.
More important than features, price, or battery life, Pebble is competing with heart. “We can beat [Apple] on passion and creativity and care for what we do,” Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky tells Fortune. “We care more about our products and community than anyone else.”
And yet, on things like price and battery life, Pebble has an advantage. Starting $349 and going up to $17,000, the Apple Watch, as we learned yesterday, won’t be for everyone. Pebble’s latest watch, the Pebble Time, costs $199. Pebble will offer a longer battery life, too: The Pebble Time watch lasts seven days, where the Apple watch is meant to last “all day.”
Critics will say that Pebble’s devices are simple and carry far less functionality than Apple’s wristwear. Still, Pebble is betting that its seven-year history in the category will give it an advantage over Apple, despite the Cupertino, Calif. company’s massive heft and financial resources. Aside from two hugely successful Kickstarter campaigns, Pebble has only raised $15 million in venture funding.
Pebble believes its one million smart watch users helped it learn that apps aren’t the future. It’s difficult to navigate a list of apps on a tiny screen, and most users only use three or four apps. (Music and fitness are most popular.) Pebble’s latest model uses a timeline-style interface that is meant to integrate calendar and email functionality without the need to find and open separate apps.
And even if individual apps aren’t the future of wearable tech interfaces, they’re needed to synthesize data from sensors and integrate into the watch’s interface a useful way. Pebble has an open platform with 6500 developers building apps and functionality for the watch. The company recently launched a “Smartstrap” that allows developers to create watchbands with sensors. (Think of it like an App Store for watchbands.) Even other wearable device makers like Jawbone and Misfit have launched apps on Pebble.
And anyways, Migicovsky doesn’t believe smart watches is a winner-take-all game: “In the grand scheme of things, smart watches are still relatively unknown.”
For more on the smart watch shootout: