Fitbit may buy Pebble, but can it really make a killer smartwatch?


Recently, reports have been circulating that Fitbit, the major player in the fitness apparel space, is looking to buy Pebble, an early smartwatch maker with considerable influence in the space. It seems like a very logical marriage – Fitbit tried to introduce smartwatches with the Fitbit Surge last year and the Fitbit Blaze this year. Pebble recently focused on fitness features with the unveiling of Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2.

There was a problem – Fitbit’s offerings weren’t as good as smartwatches and the new Pebbles weren’t as good as fitness trackers. If Fitbit could take advantage of the matured Pebble OS smartwatch operating system, there’s hope it could create a new line of wearables that are good smartwatches that also double as good fitness trackers. – which is Fitbit’s core expertise.

But smartwatches have been through a rough patch overall. 2016 saw shipments drop 50% in the third quarter. Google postponed the big release of its smartwatch platform – Android Wear 2.0 – to early 2017, which had a knock-on effect as watchmakers Huawei, LG and Motorola didn’t launch any new models this year. Now, Motorola says it won’t be releasing a new wearable alongside Android Wear 2.0 either.

Apple’s 2nd generation Apple Watch focused primarily on improving fitness-related features (such as water resistance, GPS, and a brighter screen), and wasn’t otherwise a different experience compared to the first generation Apple Watch. All in all, it’s just not been a good year for smartwatches.

But if you look at the core function of a smartwatch, one thing is noticeable: Watches that don’t run operating systems created by the same people who make our phone’s software fail to deliver a rich experience. , as explained below. And given that Android and iOS make up 99% of all smartphones running today, if a smartwatch isn’t running Android Wear or watchOS, it will lose out in some ways.

(Also see: Bengaluru-based WitWorks wants to tackle Apple Watch and Android Wear)

For example, you can voice reply to an iMessage arriving on your iPhone on the Apple Watch, but you cannot do the same on a Pebble Time 2 or Pebble 2, although they also have a microphone, with some exceptions. close. That’s because Apple doesn’t allow it for third-party products yet, like Android Wear does. Then you can do things like take calls, get all the flashy effects on iMessages, or even unlock a Mac using your Apple Watch – things that just aren’t possible on third-party platforms. smart watch.

This is where the notion of smartwatches and ecosystem lockdown comes in. It’s obvious that Apple and Google will want to use software integration between the watch and phone operating systems to create unique experiences, and at the same time entice people to continue using their other product offerings.

Using Siri on the Apple Watch or Google Now on Android Wear will be a unique feature that third-party watches might never get. Likewise, if you have an Apple Music subscription, you can sync songs to your Apple Watch. If you have a Google Play Music subscription, you can sync them to Android Wear. In doing so, both platforms are pushing their music services to alternatives such as Saavn or Spotify.

Although Pebble has gained support from big names like Uber, it is powerless against services offered by Apple or Google. For example, Google Maps on Android Wear or Apple Maps on an Apple Watch are fully functional watch apps (in countries where Apple Watch directions are available) that give you proper visual cues, so you don’t have to. to look at the phone at all. These experiences will never be possible unless Apple or Google build their map apps for Pebble or any third-party platform, or at least open up the necessary APIs that would make such integration possible.

To provide basic Android Wear support on existing Android apps, all you need to do is add a few lines of code in the app. It’s less effort than having to create an app for a separate platform like Pebble OS.

All this does not mean that third-party watches are all bad. Pebble and Fitbit’s use of power-draining e-ink screens allows them to last several days longer than an Apple Watch or Android Wear device. But the points above amply suggest that if you buy a smartwatch that doesn’t run Android Wear or watchOS, chances are you’ll get an overall substandard experience.

Tech

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