Eric Migicovsky on Pebble's origin, smartwatch philosophy and what's wrong with the competition

Pebble is an unequivocal success story thus far -- setting Kickstarter funding records and making its way to retail outlets. However, the road it's taken hasn't been been all smooth, and at TechCrunch Disrupt today, company CEO Eric Migicovsky spoke about Pebble's beginnings and some of the challenges it faced as a hardware startup. Migicovsky said that he first started working on Pebble's precursor five years ago, not because he thought it would become a business but because "it was something I wanted to have," he said. That first prototype was essentially a hacked Arduino strapped to his wrist, and while it "didn't work too well as a watch" due to poor battery life and performance, he got a lot of positive feedback from other folks who saw it. Those folks geeking out over that prototype is what convinced him to enter the smartwach business.

When prototyping further, Migicovsky relied heavily upon parts from SparkFun, and it turns out the watch is made mostly of off-the-shelf materials. Initially, he thought the challenge would be to acquire the hardware needed to build Pebble, but most of the company's problems came from the assembly step of manufacturing. You see, hardware startups don't have access to automated manufacturing, so all those Pebbles you see on wrists were constructed by hand in Shenzhen. To ensure that the watches were assembled correctly, a Pebble employee was dispatched to the China to physically inspect the devices as they were coming off the line. In short, ramping up manufacturing to meet huge demand in less than eight months was an incredibly labor intensive process, and that's why there were several delays along the way.

Now, however, the company's caught up a bit, and with the hardware problems handled, Pebble has shifted its focus to software. Migicovsky says that Pebble was built to "mesh into your life," not change your behavior, and to that end, he sees Pebble as a "platform for micro interactions" with other devices. "We [Pebble] believe that the best computer you have is the one in your pocket," so a smartwatch should be built to take advantage of that. When asked about Pebble's competition from the likes of Samsung and Sony, Migicovsky stated that they're doing it wrong: "I think a lot of competitors have built over-specced machines instead of just building something that fits into your life," implying that other smartwatch makers have prioritized building powerful hardware over a great user experience.

Pebble plans to deliver that great user experience by partnering with developers to give Pebble the means to integrate with other connected devices like heart monitors and thermostats. So, Pebble 2.0 won't come in the form of new hardware, instead the company goal is to make it a true app platform. "We want Pebble to change its function to suit your needs," said Migicovsky, "you shouldn't even need to open an app, it should just work."