A Pebble dropped into a pool last year has sent ripples into the world's biggest tech giants, including Apple, Sony and Microsoft. Kate Large rounds up the latest developments in the fast-moving SmartWatch sector
A Pebble dropped into a pool last year has sent ripples into the world's biggest tech giants, including Apple, Sony and Microsoft.
The Pebble in question is the Pebble smartwatch, the brainchild of Pebble Technology, which last year used a novel way to garner public funding for its project. The company launched a campaign on the Kickstarter website to fund the development of an e-paper wristwatch that would work with both iPhone and Android smartphones, with various alerts and notifications and displaying messages via Bluetooth.
The Kickstarter project took off in spectacular style, raising over $10.2m and setting a record in Kickstarter history. The resulting product, the black Pebble smartwatch, hits the shelves in the US from July 7, priced at $150, with a red version planned for August.
It wasn't just funding that Pebble Technology got out of its Kickstarter venture: it was also effectively a mass validation of the concept. The public's willingness to help fund the Pebble proved that the market is ready and waiting for smartwatches, with the result that the major players are getting in on the act. From the consumer just wanting the coolest new toy, to the video editor looking to keep track of precious data while on location, there could soon be a SmartWatch for every occasion.
The nascent smartwatch sector is exploding, with Dell the latest to express interest, albeit in cautious terms. Sam Burd, Dell's Global VP of personal computing, says the company has its eye on the growing wearable market, driven partly by the continued slump in Dell's core business, desktop PC sales.
"Looking ahead five years, we expect devices and form factors to continue to change," he said. Admitting that here will still be a need for 'static' computing on desktops, he added that there will be a 'real need for mobile devices'' and wearable devices.
Sony announced in late June its Sony SmartWatch 2, hoping to steal a march on Apple with what it describes as 'a second screen for your Android phone.' While not in the same league as its 4k-capable smartphone, the watch nonetheless has a respectable 220x176 pixel 1.6in screen. Users can receive phone notifications, handle calls, take photos, read downloaded emails, check maps, access an app interface, control music playback and control their phone from the watch.
Sony says the dust- and water-resistant SmartWatch 2 should work with 'most' Android tablets and smartphones and there'll be interchangeable 24mm wristbands to choose from when the watches go on sale this September. There is no indication which price point Sony will select.
Microsoft's plans are the stuff of rumour as yet, with anonymous sources throwing out development titbits: it's said a watch with a 1.5in screen, designed to complement its Windows Phone products, is being made in conjunction with an in-house handset prototype.
Google may have been trying to fly under the radar with its smartwatch offering, but was outed in May, when its filing with the US Patent Office showed a 'smart-watch with user interface features'. The watch has two touchpads on either side of the display face and the patent says these will be used to "pinch, stretch and scroll on a platform with limited space available for user input." It's expected that a Google smartwatch would be manufactured by Motorola.
In the meantime, Apple, in trying to register iWatch as a trademark worldwide, has made filings already in Japan, Taiwan, and Mexico. But it's understood the company has hit a wall in the US and the UK - where the iWatch name is already spoken for.
In the US the iWatch trademark is owned by the small Californian company OMG Electronics, which is reportedly trying to raise funds to launch a product under this very name. In an exact mirror of Pebble's quest for development, OMG has launched a funding drive on the Indiegogo website, but either enthusiasm or pockets seem to have dried up: the project is understood to have garnered only $1,434 in crowdsource funding.