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Pebble: From prototype to being more than just a simple timepiece

Posted: 11 Dec 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Pebble? smartwatch? Bluetooth? Broadcom? Eric Migicovsky?

The unprecedented popularity of the Pebble smart watch may have a lot more to do with the person and the concept behind it than the novelty it delivers. The night before Eric Migicovsky opened a door to what would become a $10 million windfall, he was sitting in his living room chatting with friends about how much his Kickstarter campaign might raise when it launched the next day.

"The biggest prediction was $5,000," he said. Today Migicovsky is CEO of Pebble Technology with about 45 employees. The startup recently moved from his living room into a real office in Palo Alto, California.

The startup had its origins in 2008 when Migicovsky was in his final year at engineering school at the University of Waterloo. He was working on prototypes for a smart wallet and a smart watch.

His smart watch prototype used an Arduino board linked to a display torn out of an aging Nokia 3310, the classic candy bar cellphone. "I couldn't have predicted that five years later I would be running a smart watch company," he told a group of reporters at an event sponsored by Broadcom Corp.

Eric Migicovsky

Kickstarter rallied backers from 150 countries, 45 percent of them outside the U.S. They helped jettison Pebble into a real company with a real product instead of a prototype "held together by duct tape—five years later there's much less duct tape," Migicovsky said.

"It's really exciting to see two or three people create a product that takes the industry by storm," said Henry Samueli, co-founder and chief technologist at Broadcom, introducing Migicovsky at the event.

There were smart watches before and after Pebble. But Migicovsky credits his startup with being unique in how it considered what consumers might want then observed what they did with its device "daily to make life better in small but meaningful ways," he said.

Creating custom watch faces as fashion statements or just for fun is one use. "The most popular Pebble app is a watch face where a monster eats the time every minute," he said.

Use of the watch as a remote control was one of the unexpected applications and one with lots of legs for the future.

Today, Pebble is a Bluetooth platform to read text alerts and caller IDs from smartphones, control WiFi-enabled door locks and thermostats, and more. The company has a software developer's kit used by hackers and established companies, including Royal Philips Electronics who wrote an app to control its LED lights using the watch.

Another new app lets the watch control a GoPro camera. The watch also will become a window to wearable fitness devices.

"Our job is to connect to sensors and be the heads-up, hands-free display to other devices," he said.

Broadcom's Samueli said he thinks medical gadgets will become one of the biggest segments of the emerging market for wearable devices. "Once we build sophisticated enough sensors, healthcare will be one of the biggest areas with monitors for blood chemistry and brain waves you will have a new world of healthcare," he said.

Migicovsky wants to keep the smart watch simple. The company aims to limit the device to using small messages of just a few Bluetooth packets. That way it can maintain its promised battery life of about a week.

The watch does not use wireless charging yet, but the company has done "quite a lot of investigations" of competing standards. It uses a proprietary charging plug now in part to ensure the watch is waterproof and for better industrial design.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times Europe

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