CES showed us just how far ahead Pebble truly is

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The week before CES, Michael and I were discussing what Pebble could possibly announce at the show. We knew it had a press event scheduled for Monday, January 6 in Las Vegas, one day before CES actually started.

I recall blatantly saying, “Whatever it is, it isn’t hardware. That’s for sure.” I was at the Pebble press event in 2013 and CEO Eric Migicovsky stood in front of a small group of press and boldly said, Pebble is future-proofed. He explained how the major updates for Pebble in the foreseeable future would be software-only, no hardware updates.

I don’t think anyone could have accurately predicted how popular wearable technology would become in the following 11 months, however. In fact, 2013 easily went on to become the year of wearables. Google Glass made a huge splash, followed by Galaxy Gear, Sony SmartWatch 2, and fitness trackers galore.

As such, Pebble went back on its word – and rightfully so. The competition kicked it into a higher gear, and Pebble had to act accordingly.

Before I flew out to Las Vegas, I had an idea of what I would be seeing from Pebble. Some renders of Pebble Steel, as well as the actual retail name, found their way into my inbox. And I remember being in Target, picking up some last-minute travel supplies when I received the email. I stopped what I was doing and stared at the renders – jaw-dropped – for at least five minutes.

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Images via Pebble

This thing was gorgeous. And that was determined only from looking at a boring press renders and lifeless images. When I went to the private meeting and actually put the thing on, I swooned. Immediately.

The only complaint I ever had with the original Pebble was completely resolved with Pebble Steel. The build quality and materials are premium. And they’re not just premium in that they’re of higher quality than the original Pebble’s, they’re premium materials for a watch … period.

Don’t get me wrong, I love accessorizing various watch bands with my Pebble. But it has never once looked high quality, business professional, or serious, no matter how expensive the band.

Pebble Steel changes that entirely, for a price. And some of you may be upset that Pebble didn’t truly raise the bar in functionality, specifications, or features. The Galaxy Gear, for example, can shoot (terrible) video, and you can control S Voice from your wrist. But in my humble opinion, the Gear tries too hard to be something it’s not. It’s a smartwatch, not a wrist-mounted phone.

That’s something Pebble understands all too well. Its lack of major updates is by design. Pebble wants its products to be simple, and to remain a peripheral, not a full-on universal remote for your smartphone. It’s for notifications, simple controls, and it’s a platform for creativity. The minimalism is a beauty in Pebble not everyone sees or cherishes. It’s a product not meant for just anyone.

But that may change in time, especially with the launch of Pebble Steel.

If you were able to take a stroll through the WristRevolution in the middle of South Hall 3 in the Las Vegas Convention Center last week, you would understand exactly why Pebble has very little to worry about in 2014. Companies are trying to fit all sorts of giant, do-it-all contraptions on people’s wrists. Some of the smartwatches in the tiny corner of the hall were incredibly tacky, some gigantic, and most of them were not even working models.

In fact, the only Pebble-like smartwatch we came across the entire time in Las Vegas was ZTE’s BlueWatch. To call it Pebble-like is an understatement, though. And at the same time, to even relate it to Pebble is an insult to the company. It’s, more or less, an uninspired mimic, with silver plastic buttons on the side, a fixed band, and a single backlight which works only by bleeding light over the black and white display. It felt notably more cheap than Pebble, though ZTE assured us this product was only a beta.

archosArchos also unveiled a smartwatch with a 1.8-inch curved E Ink display. We weren’t able to make time to get to the Archos booth, and didn’t manage to get any hands-on time with this watch, but it seems to offer a very basic set of features and fall in line with the price range of the original Pebble.

The point remains: if this is Pebble’s only true, direct competition, the company has very, very little to worry about.

Why is that? Because even the very best of the smartwatch makers at CES proved that they’re only just now catching up with where Pebble was over one year ago. Since then Pebble has released several major firmware changes, is on the brink of launching its own appstore, and is on revision two of the hardware which, so far, is a winner across the board.

On top of that, the up-and-comers face a tough challenge: stealing the mainstream consumers’ attention away from devices like the Gear and Pebble Steel. With a face like the Archos smartwatch, it could be a very tough sell.

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Pebble Steel and even Galaxy Gear (which I personally find very ugly) are in a league of their own, at least in terms of aesthetics. And with a device like a watch, which for many is very much a fashion item, appearance is all-important.

Functionality for Pebble will come with the appstore, the development team is very open to listening to its users, and the hardware is already looking fantastic. Best of all, the community is thriving and growing rapidly. Some developers are doing awesome things with such a simple, limited device. Rest assured, 2014 will be a great year for Pebble, and unless some major company like Google or Apple blindside us with watches of their own, there is very little standing in Pebble’s way.

As they say, onward and upward!

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+