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Why Pebble Time, not Android Wear, is Apple Watch's biggest competition

Michael Simon | March 2, 2015
OK, Pebble's addition of color isn't enough to compete with a solid-gold Apple Watch Edition, but it could sway some customers from the Apple Watch Sport.


If you had told me last December that in the first part of 2015, a smartwatch would make headlines across the world, shatter sales records, and create a constant stream of refreshes, hashtags and bad puns, I would have naturally assumed you were talking about Apple Watch. For the past five months we've been anxiously awaiting the "early 2015" debut of Apple's first wearable, an entry so important it's basically put its Android Wear competitors on ice as buyers wait to see what Apple Watch can really do.

But while we need to wait at least another 30 days (well, maybe less) to strap one on our wrists, Pebble--humble Pebble--went ahead and one-upped Apple, LG, and anyone else planning to show off a new smartwatch at next week's Mobile World Congress. It's a bold, brilliant move that shifts the focus back to itself (at least until a week from Monday, anyway), and positions Pebble as a viable option in the increasingly homogenous smartwatch landscape.

Now, it's not likely to sway anyone willing to drop thousands on a solid-gold Apple Watch Edition, but the new Time model sets up Pebble as a formidable competitor to Apple Watch Sport, certainly more so than anything we've seen running Android Wear. No iPhone user in their right mind would switch to a Samsung Galaxy or Motorola X just because of a watch, but Pebble offers something few other smartwatches can claim: iOS compatibility.

Hip to be square
If Apple is the front-runner in the smartwatch race, at least where iPhone users are concerned, Pebble is the consummate underdog, going so far as to launch its new watch on Kickstarter, thus rekindling the crowdfunding credibility that made its bones. Pebble didn't just slide in before Apple's inevitable onslaught, it managed to capitalize on the hype with a product that's pretty much the antithesis of Apple Watch.

Stacked up against the sleek curves and sapphire glass of Apple Watch, Pebble Time probably looks like a cheap knockoff to a casual observer, but that's not the point. Nothing about Pebble Time is luxurious. The company knows it can't compete with Apple on the fashion front, and it's not trying to. While last year's Pebble Steel introduced premium materials to give the watch a more grown-up vibe, the new model goes back to its roots, sticking to its understated design (just a little thinner and sleeker) and putting a renewed emphasis on functionality. While circular smartwatches may have a certain visual appeal, Apple's decision to make a watch with a square face has given Pebble some unintended validation, which no doubt contributed to its brisk sales over the first few days.


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