Next Up? The Smart Watch

If the crowd-funding spike for the Pebble smart watch is any indication, wearable tech is about to go mainstream

The Pebble smart watch is on a roll.
The Pebble smart watch is on a roll. Photo courtesy of Allerta

Remember how excited everyone got a few weeks ago when Google started sharing details about the augmented reality glasses it’s developing. Project Glass, as it’s called, seemed sure to be the next big thing in wearable tech–glasses that work like a smart phone, giving you directions, taking photos, connecting to the Web, pinging you with reminders, buying tickets, and generally acting like a concierge wrapped around your head.

Now that all seems soooo early April.

Because this week the new new thing is a smart watch called the Pebble. Not that smart watches are new–they’ve been around for a few years. But Pebble’s cutting a sharper edge. It’s the first smart watch to be able to communicate wirelessly with both iPhones and Android smartphones. Even more impressive, though, is how Allerta, the company behind it, has used “crowd-funding” to go viral and, in the process, raise way, way more cash than it thought it could.

Nine days ago, Pebble rolled out on Kickstarter, the website that’s usually associated with encouraging the public to invest in creative projects–indie films, music, video games, books. Allerta hoped people would kick in $100,000; as of this morning, it has raised almost $5.5 million. That’s serious money.

Usually a product like the Pebble would go the venture capitalist route. But founder Eric Migicovsky knew that investors can be skittish about throwing money into hardware, and would likely ask a lot of questions about models and market size. So he took his smart watch to the people. He simply made a video showing what the Pebble could do and invited visitors to the Kickstarter site to pre-order models at a discounted rate from the $150 it will cost in stores. More than 37,000 people have ponied up so far, and the offer still has almost a month to go. Which means the Pebble, which won’t come out until this fall, already has itself a community of believers.

That’s a sweet enticement to mobile apps developers, who are as critical to the success of a smart watch as they are to smartphones. If they can see that much demand for a product months before it’s available, they don’t need much incentive to jump on board. And that’s what will ensure that Allerta can deliver on its claim that the Pebble will be the first truly customizable smart watch.

How smart can a watch be?

So what is it about the Pebble that makes it so alluring? Start with the fact that it’s compatible with iPhones. That’s huge, since no other smart watch is. But here’s what else it will be able to do. It will allow you to read text messages on Android smartphones and flash caller ID on its screen when a call comes in. You can use it to control music on your phone and to track how far you’ve run or at what pace you’ve ridden your bike. On the golf course, it will be able to tell you how far it is to the hole. Plus, the Pebble is water-resistant, can hold a charge for a week and its e-paper screen is easy to read, even in direct sunlight.

Right, and it tells time. But not on some standard, dull digital display–unless that’s what you choose. Because you’ll be able to customize the watch face to your preference for how you want time to look as it passes.

Does this tech make me look fat?

More experts are saying wearable tech is about to go mainstream. Here are some of the latest developments:

Video bonus: See the video on Kickstarter that convinced thousands of people to invest in a Pebble smart watch.

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