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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.

Like Apple Watch, Pebble Time boasts interchangeable bands, but it's not selling a series of meticulously manufactured brackets with gold accents and magnetic Milanese mesh; rather, it gave Time a standard 22mm pin band, meaning it can be customized with little or no cost to the user. Again, Pebble's not going to beat out Jony Ive for any design awards here, but it's giving people a level of personalization not possible with Apple Watch.

Time eliminates Pebble's most glaring deficiency by adding a color screen, but it, too, pales in comparison to Apple Watch's retina display. But remember: Pebble's biggest selling point over any of its peers has always been its weeklong battery life, and the 64-color screen doesn't sacrifice a second of it. It's an impressive feat (even if the screen looks like something from the early '90s), and it puts Apple Watch's expected daily charging in a harsher light.

Can't touch this
While Pebble gave its monochrome display a necessary upgrade, however, it surprisingly didn't add support for our fingers. That's straight-up weird for a smartwatch, and it's certain to turn off some buyers, but it actually makes sense for Pebble. If Time was to have a laggy or wonky touchscreen, it would be DOA. So by keeping things simple, Pebble is ensuring the best possible experience for users, with a bar far lower than the one Apple Watch has to clear.

Without a touchscreen, Pebble's navigation relies on the same four side buttons (back, up, down, select) as the original model. It might not be as striking of a navigation tool as Apple's Digital Crown, but it's also not as complex. Pebble's learning curve is virtually nonexistant--it feels about as natural as a digital watch--and Time doesn't add any unnecessary complications just to compete with Apple Watch.

The two watches are in different leagues for sure, but it remains to be seen just how big the market for a luxury smartwatch actually is. At $350, Apple's cheapest watch is about twice as much as the Pebble (and that's before we get into the potential nose-bleed prices of the Edition). There are an awful lot of iPhone users who don't see past the subsidized price of that device, and for them, a $179 Pebble might be the perfect smartwatch for their $199 phone.

Solid as a rock
Apple has spent many months crafting an interface that's as polished as it is professional, without trying to cram too much into a little space. On the surface, it would seem that Apple Watch's apps and Glances run circles around Pebble's rather crude OS, but it's more sophisticated than it looks. Time adds voice support, a timeline interface, and a more intuitive app menu, and is fully compatible with the 6,500-plus monochrome apps and faces already available in its app store.

 

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