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News Link • Science, Medicine and Technology

Smart Watches

• John Pavlus via
Eric Migicovsky didn’t really want a “wearable computer.” When he first conceived of what would become the Pebble smart watch five years ago, as an industrial-design student at Delft University of Technology in the Nether­lands, he just wanted a way to use his smartphone without crashing his bicycle. “I thought of creating a watch that could grab information from my phone,” the 26-year-old Canadian says. “I ended up building a prototype in my dorm room.”

Now Migicovsky is shipping 85,000 Pebble watches to eager customers who don’t want to lug a glass slab out of their pocket just to check their e-mail or the weather forecast. Pebble uses Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to an iPhone or Android phone and displays notifications, messages, and other simple data of the user’s choosing on its small black-and-white LCD screen. In April 2012, using the online fund-raising platform Kickstarter, Migicovsky asked for $100,000 to help bring Pebble to market. Five weeks later, he had more than $10 million—making his the highest-grossing Kickstarter campaign yet. Suddenly smart watches are a real product category: Sony entered the market last year, Samsung is about to, and Apple seems likely to follow.

Although the $150 Pebble watch can be used to control a music playlist or run simple apps like RunKeeper, a cloud-based fitness tracker, Migicovsky and his team purposely designed the watch to do as little as possible, leaving more complicated apps for phones. This emphasis on making the watch “glanceable” informed nearly every aspect of the design. The black-and-white screen, for example, can be read in direct sunlight and displays content persistently without needing to “sleep” to conserve battery power, as color or touch-screen displays do.

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