Pebble Watch: Behind The Smartwatch Sensation
July 11, 2012 — -- It's 8 a.m. and Eric Migicovsky opens the door to his condo-turned-home-office in downtown Palo Alto, Calif. He looks a lot like many of entrepreneurs in their twenties or thirties walking around Palo Alto or sitting around its coffee shops -- shorts, sandals, and a MacBook Pro are all part of the uniform.
But Migicovsky has become something of a Silicon Valley sensation over the last few months. He is the mastermind behind the Pebble Watch, the smart watch that got more than $10.2 million in backing on Kickstarter.com after private investors and venture capital firms decided not to back it. The digital watch pairs with Android phones and the iPhone and runs apps.
Eric had hoped just to raise $100,000 to make 1,000 watches on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site that allows anyone to buy a product before it is made. And, well, that turned out to be chump change. Within 37 days, Pebble raised $10 million and over 85,000 watch orders.
WATCH: Pebble Smartwatch: Behind The Scenes
On an early June morning I'm getting a behind-the-scenes look at just what is so special about this record-breaking smart watch. But before I do that Migicovsky and his roommates -- one works for Pebble and another works at another start-up -- have to get ready for work.
They take turns getting in the shower while chatting about what they did last night. They make eggs and coffee in their small kitchen. A Silicon Valley frat house might be the best way to describe it.
But there is much more than chatter about beer and babes going on in this condo. By 9 a.m. four Pebble employees are in the downstairs office. One of them, Matt Zulak, replaces the empty beer bottle on his desk with coffee, and puts his head down to write software for the watch. Andrew Witte sits at his desk and begins tinkering with some hardware and the MakerBot 3D printer, which we have had to move out of the center of the office to make room for our camera. Pebble now has nine employees; six of them were hired since the Kickstarter campaign.
And those nine employees are all helping build what Migicovsky calls "one of the best watches in the world." He says he is confident of that, not only because of the reaction from early backers but because he has had experience building a watch before.
"We actually launched our first smart watch a year and a half ago, which worked primarily with BlackBerry smartphones," he tells me as he starts to show me the prototype watch next to the previous InPulse version. "We had built a watch that was primarily an email device, but we started learning what people wanted out of a smarter watch."
They wanted better battery life and one that worked better outside, which is how the Pebble's defining feature -- its e-paper screen -- came to be incorporated. The black and white screen is crisp, readable outdoors, and doesn't use as much power as the LCD screen on the original watch. Even with the sun shining right on the screen I was able to see the time on the prototype.
The watch has some other key features: it has four buttons, rather than a touchscreen, it's smaller than the InPulse and competing products from Sony and WIMM, and it is the first smart watch to work with the iPhone. The watch will also work with Android phones, but there are other Android smartphone watches. The watch pairs with the phones using Bluetooth.
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