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Pebble Launches New Color Smartwatch, Says It’s ‘Gearing Up for Battle’ With Apple

Lauren Goode
Lauren Goode | Re/code

Pebble, the Palo Alto-based startup that makes nifty smartwatches, is the latest wearable-maker to announce a new product with a giant elephant in the room.

This morning the company introduced Pebble Time, a brand-new smartwatch that features a color display, unlike its two Pebble predecessors, which had black and white E-ink displays.

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The Pebble Time's interchangeable rubber band gives it a more casual feel. But the display is covered in durable Gorilla Glass, with a stainless steel bezel. It's also 20 percent thinner than the previous model and slightly curved to fit the wrist more comfortably. It also has a microphone for dictating short text responses.

Despite its always-on color display, Pebble says battery life should be about seven days on a charge.

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With this new software and hardware combo, Pebble believes it has found a solution to what you might call app overload on a tiny smartwatch screen. It's called the "timeline."

Rather than force the wearer to go back to the watch home screen each time she wants to open a new app (Pebble supports over 6,500 apps), they'll appear on a scrolling timeline. This includes past apps, ones that are relevant now and apps that might be useful in the near future. They're cued up through three physical buttons on the right side of the watch face.

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For example, a "past" notification might show last night's game score from the ESPN app, while "now" would include an update from a weather, traffic or stock app; and "future" information might include an alert from the Fandango app for a movie you're seeing that evening.

And finally, the charging port on the underside of the Pebble Time will double as an accessories port — so something like a heart-rate sensor or a small GPS device could attach to the watch. These accessories don't exist yet, but Pebble thinks hardware companies will make them.

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The Pebble Time goes on sale this morning and is expected to ship in May. It costs $159 or $199 — depending on when you buy it.

Interestingly, Pebble is going back to its Kickstarter roots for the Pebble Time. Rather sell the Time on its own website or through one of its 15,000 retail partners, the company is first launching a 31-day Kickstarter campaign, to "tell the story" of the new watch and appeal to hardcore Pebble fans.

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Eric Migicovsky, Pebble's founder and CEO, insisted in a briefing with Re/code that funding production of the new watch wasn't an issue. Pebble has sold over a million watches to date and is profitable, he said. It managed the development and early production of the new watch without additional investment.

But Pebble also has bigger worries right now. Like, a $765 billion dollar worry named Apple, which will finally ship its own smartwatch in April.

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"We're pretty much gearing up for battle," Migicovsky said. "We're a 130-person company, up from three people just a couple years ago. They have 80,000 people. And we believe our product is …," he paused to think of the right word, "stellar."

One thing the Pebble certainly has going for it is that it works work with both iOS and Android smartphones, unlike Apple Watch or Android Wear watches. It's also not trying to be a health and fitness watch, though it will run fitness apps.

"Pebble is for people who lead busy lives, whether they run a company or have a family," Migicovsky said. "They're trying to get stuff done."