Smartwatches are all the rage at the minute, or so we’re being told.
Every tech outlet, every major manufacturer has devoted a great deal of time and energy over the past two years into shaping the fundamental concept of what a wearable should be.
Boosted by the modern trend for increasing miniaturization, the Internet of Things (IoT, and officially a terrible name) has become something of a focus. As manufacturers can now produce swathes of tiny low-power, low-cost chips, so too these have found their way into every product imaginable. From light-bulbs to t-shirts, contact lenses to toilets, manufacturers are placing chips into anything that can hold them, simply to see the results.
The reason for this is rather simple: no one yet knows what the IoT is, or even what it should do. And with almost every manufacturer now experimenting in this space, it is unlikely that we will find out for quite some time yet.
Of course, in this melee, there are a few companies that have a greater chance of success, with more resources and experience, and a few shapes that have started to become established in the public consciousness. While even some of these have become synonymous with utter failure (here’s looking at you Google Glass), others have even gained a little traction.
From these select few, Pebble is the only small player that has managed to successfully carve out a reasonable niche. The concept of the Pebble watch remains as simple as when the Kickstarter first appeared several years ago: a clear and present focus on notifications.
As a smartwatch, the Pebble is somewhat basic. With a non-colour e-ink display that always remains ‘on’ it is more akin to a common watch than a “smart” watch. This isn’t a device that is meant to replace your smartphone, unlike some others that have tried, it is rather a different beast.
Instead of hindering it, the Pebble’s similarities to the common watch are its main strengths over its competitors. The ‘basic’ display on offer allows for superb outdoor visibility, and for a nearly 7-day battery life, which is practically unheard of in the smartwatch space. Moreover, this general simplicity means that the device is far more water-proof than others, being able to survive a swim rather than a splash.
What’s more, on top of this Pebble, through the availability of a free SDK for developers, has amassed over 1000 apps in a dedicated store for its device, more than competitors have thus far managed to accrue and with some big names present.
Working on both iOS and Android, and with a recognizable design, low-price point and wide-spread availability, Pebble has carved out a significant niche, and with very limited resources. However, all is not well, and things may yet take a turn for the worse.
Though Pebble has enjoyed significant success in the smartwatch space, selling over 1 million units to date, they are mere minnows compared to the players which have now entered the space. In 2012, when the smartwatch market was considered effectively dead, and the wearables industry had yet to pick up its current pace, Pebble was able to take the lead relatively easily.
Yet, with the likes of Google, LG, Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Alcatel OneTouch, Withings and many others entering the space, Pebble has quickly found the limits of its capabilities.
Unlike its rivals in this space, it cannot afford to pump out new products, instead relying on the goodwill of Kickstarter backers to help launch new offerings. This state of affairs has only been compounded by the release of the Apple Watch. With such large players having entered such a small market, venture capitalists and other investors are no longer willing to invest in what they now see as doomed.
So what then can Pebble do?
The answer is simple: seek acquisition by a larger firm; this would it to continue developing and investing in its range of products without being out-competed by the big fish. And yet, who would be willing to take on such a venture?
This is where Microsoft enters the fray. Microsoft has a long history of failure in the wearables space. It was back in 2003 that it implemented the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watch, which is perhaps the first ‘smart’ watch to truly enter the public consciousness. The device could display the weather, short news snippets and other information along with the time, working by receiving and sending FM waves, a service that cost roughly $59 a year.
While the concept was interesting, the watches failed to gain any traction, as with many other innovative Microsoft products of the time. In the present, things are little better, with the Microsoft Band not gaining a great deal of attention. Looking a little like the bracelets worn by repeat offenders, the device occupies a strange space in the tech sphere.
There is still time for Microsoft to make its name in the wearable space, and what better way to do so than through the purchase of Pebble?
For a fraction of its vast wealth, Microsoft could gain instant access to an established cross-platform app ecosystem, and work to better implement it with its own devices, which have so far been neglected by Pebble. It could also tie nicely into Microsoft’s continued focus on productivity, helping to make time savings.
If there is one factor that has pushed Pebble ahead of the other small players, it is user loyalty. Through its initial Kickstarter campaign for the first Pebble watch, and later through developer engagement, the company enjoys a small but devoted following. Were any acquisition to go ahead, this would have to be taken into account. Yet, as Microsoft has proven through its takeover of the likes of Mojang and Accompli, it has learned a little about placating a devoted user-base while also making necessary, but unpopular, business decisions.
All of this is of course predicated on the notion that Microsoft does want to get into the smartwatch space: if indeed it does however then this might be something of a no-brainer for the firm.
If there is one thing that Microsoft has consistently proven through its introduction of various hardware projects outside of the Windows space, it is that it cannot effectively market a product to the general public. The Kin and Zune (and indeed Windows Phone itself), are a testament to this. Xbox is of course an exception, but success in that space took a great deal of financial investment, and quite a lot of time.
The future, as ever, is vague, but with Microsoft making a number of acquisitions across various spheres, this may indeed be more likely than not.
What do you think? Should Microsoft purchase Pebble? Let us know what you think in the comments below.Further reading: Microsoft, Microsoft Band, Pebble, Windows Phone, Zune