War of the watches: Pebble’s smartstraps add new dimension

Courtesy of Pebble.

Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky has a lot to be excited about these days. His company recently finished another successful Kickstarter campaign with $20 million in pledges for two new products: the Pebble Time and Time Steel. The new smartwatches begin mass production next week and will begin shipping to thousands of backers in May and June.

Both watches will include updated software, more app storage, a microphone for voice commands and, its most talked about feature, smartstraps. The company will partner with third-parties to create the impressive digital straps that will include built-in sensors and replace the standard watchband found on past Pebble Time models.

Smartstraps currently in the works by developers include one that has a built-in battery, which could extend the Time’s battery life up to a month from 10 days. Others include a strap with a GPS sensor that could map your run without the need to carry a smartphone and another that features a thermometer that can read any room’s ambient temperature.

But, could including electronic components and sensors in an electronic watchband that’s subject to being bent and flexed be problematic? Zach Supalla, whose company Spark Lqbs creates software and hardware for Internet-connected devices, is optimistic the smartstraps will endure daily use. “The hardware for this type of integration can be very small, and lends itself to being used in a smartstrap,” he explains. “Flex PCB (Printed Circuit Board) is what I would use; it’s durable and forgiving. If you view any teardown of a smartphone, flex PCB is inside every one.”

Still curious, I posed the same question about durability and long-term use to the head of Pebble’s developer relations, Thomas Sarlandie. Naturally, he shrugged off any worries, but offered an interesting approach he’s noticed third-party partners using when creating prototypes. Developers, he found, have been putting sensors higher on the band, where the curve isn’t as steep and less likely to put stress on components.

The company’s smartstraps are expected to start trickling out to the market towards the end of the summer, with prices ranging anywhere from $25 for a strap with a built-in USB port to make charging on-the-go possible to $150 depending on functionality and materials used (think heart rate sensors, batteries, GPS functionality).

The most intriguing aspect about the company’s proposed smartstraps is that it allows anyone to take an arguably basic smartwatch and develop a product that works precisely for his or her lifestyle.

While Apple is busy touting the Apple Watch as its most personal device ever, it’s clear the Pebble Time lineup has the potential to be the most personal smart watch on the market.

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