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Building the perfect smartwatch

In my tech predictions of 2013 I somehow missed that this would be the year of the smartwatch. But now the most established names in tech are realizing the future may be all in the wrist.

Smartwatches are shaping up to be the Next Big Thing about a decade after they were offered to the public and met with a collective shrug. Timing can be everything in tech. Microsoft marketed a stylus-enabled PC in 2001, but the tablet concept was a nonstarter until the iPad. Even the e-reader had a first life as The Rocket — before the dot-com boom. But it was Amazon, in 2007, that reimagined the device and took the brass ring.

There is still essentially no smartwatch market, but at least one analyst is asserting that more than a million could be sold this year. That astonishing — and dubious — claim would amount to one-third of the anticipated 2013 sales of netbook (which I did predict would surge in 2013).

The renaissance began last year when a startup called Pebble began a Kickstarter campaign to build an eponymous smartwatch. Pebble’s small team raised the $200,000 it sought two hours into its 30-day fundraising period. Pebble stopped taking seed money when it reached $10 million.

Behind schedule, Pebble has finally shipped to all 55,000 backers (I was one of them). The wait to now buy one is two-three months. So the project was a rousing success. So good, apparently, that it got the attention of big tech companies — which is to say it stoked their competitive impulses to leave no, er, pebble unturned to tap into a new market.

Watch out: A hearts and minds battle for your wrist

A Kickstarter project for a device you wear on your wrist, but that needs a smartphone to do anything really interesting, has raised more than $5.3 million in eight days. This is this far and away the most anyone has ever raised on Kickstarter, and it’s happening – with a gadget in a category that has a pretty dismal track record – at a sales pace that would make even Apple sit up and take notice.

Mind you, Pebble, “The E-Paper Watch” looks very snazzy. At $115 (only 200 were available for $99, and it will retail for $150 when it goes on proper sale) it’s not terribly expensive. And there is a bit of the Kickstarter effect for things that get lots of favorable press: It’s great to get an insider deal and to get in on the ground floor on something cool. And to risk nothing: If the entrepreneur’s funding requirement isn’t met, you don’t get charged a penny.

Within two hours the people behind Pebble got what they asked for: a measly $100,000. By the time the funding round closes on May 19, they’re on pace to have more than $30 million in orders.