On Tuesday, March 3rd, Pebble announced two major updates to its Pebble Time Kickstarter campaign. The first was that they were releasing a premium, more stylish version of the Time, The Pebble Time Steel. The elegant smartwatch piggybacks on its sportier younger brother, the Pebble Time, by adding among other items finer materials, longer battery life, and more impressive finishes. This alone would’ve been enough to make the rabidly loyal Pebble community jump for joy and contribute even more money to their beloved smartwatch champion. However, Pebble had another announcement up their sleeve that had much larger implications for the the smartwatch and wearables market as a whole – Smartstraps.
Pebble Smartstraps are essentially optional watch bands that connect to the Pebble Time and allow for the inclusion of additional electronics and sensors. These electronics and sensors can interface directly with the apps running on the smartwatch. Rather than offer the finished straps as a retail offering, Pebble has called upon its maker community of tinkerers and developers to build upon the straps.
Though we have yet to see the Smartstraps in the wild, we are very excited about the possibility. Pebble has clearly timed the Kickstarter campaign, its announcements, and product developments, ahead of the impending Apple Watch release. Among the major criticisms of the Apple Watch have been its lack of sensors and, presumed, limited battery life. By launching Smartstraps, Pebble is acknowledging that you can’t shove more and more components into a smartwatch and maintain some sort of aesthetic appeal. Also, they are allowing the most passionate users, and eventually the market, to dictate what sensors or electronics are most important, and what use cases matter most to consumers.
The Smartstraps attach using a connector which is situated on both the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel. The connector has four contacts: two for ground, one for power (in and out), and a one-wire serial bus. The power contact allows the Smarstraps to power the smartwatch, or vice versa, allows the smartwatch to act as the power source for the strap. Flow of power is limited 20 mA.
Dedicated APIs will allow the Smartstraps to add extra features to the Pebble Time and Time Steel. Developers will be able to use the APIs to read and write to the port, detect when the Smartstraps are connected, and prompt features and apps to automatically launch upon that detection. Pebble has showcased possible example offerings of GPS and heart rate sensors, extended battery life, and NFC.
As for release date, Pebble has only said that they are still finalizing the entire system, and that developers will have to wait for API access until “several months after [Pebble] starts shipping Pebble Time, as it is lower priority than shipping the main OS.” Full details can be read here.