Pebble's new smartwatches focus on fitness

The key factor: built-in heart rate monitors.

Way before there was Android Wear or the Apple Watch, there was Pebble. It was arguably one of the more successful smartwatches on the market, raising a whopping $10 million on Kickstarter with its simple e-paper design. The company has faced quite a few challenges since then, but it came back fighting last year with the Time, a revamped version of the Pebble, complete with a color e-paper screen and a redesigned user interface. Still, Pebble wanted to take it further. So this year, it has.

Say hello to two new Pebbles: The Pebble 2 and the Pebble Time 2. The big new addition to both? Built-in heart rate monitors.

The reasoning behind that is simple: Health and fitness are Pebble's focus this year. Activity tracking, says CEO Eric Migicovsky, is the second most popular use case of the Pebble, right next to communications. It's why the company added more functionality to its Health app and it's also why it just introduced the Pebble Core, a stand-alone connected wearable designed for runners. It's all part of a renewed effort by Migicovsky and team to target the health market but with something that's more sophisticated than a simple Fitbit. "It's the best of the smartwatch world combined with an amazing fitness tracker," he says.

The Pebble 2 is the more casual of the two new models. Its style is reminiscent of the original Pebble -- right down to the black-and-white e-paper display -- and features a similar sporty design, albeit with a softer and more flexible silicone strap. Just like before, it's water-resistant up to 30 meters so you can swim with it if you like, and it has a quick-release button so you can swap out the strap with other 22mm bands.

Though it has the same 1.26-inch display as before, the surrounding bezel is noticeably thinner, resulting in a slimmer watch overall (39.5 x 30.2 x 9.8mm) . It comes in five different colors (black, white, aqua, flame and lime) and supposedly has a seven-day battery life.

Also of note is that the heart rate monitor continuously tracks your heart rate -- both active and resting. Migicovsky tells me it tracks your resting heart rate every 10 minutes. The heart rate monitor on the Pebble Time 2 works the same way.

Speaking of the Time 2, it's essentially an updated version of last year's Time, except Pebble decided to fuse it with the Time Steel. That means the Time 2 is built out of marine-grade stainless steel, not plastic, but ships with a silicone strap (though you can always buy a separate leather or metal option for $30 or $50 more). It also retails at just $199, which was the price of the original Time. Unlike the Pebble 2, the Time 2 has a color e-paper display, boasts a 10-day battery life and is also a touch bigger (40.5 x 37.5 x 10.8mm).

The big news with the Time 2, however, is that it has a dramatically larger screen. It measures 1.5 inches diagonally, which is around 50 percent bigger than the original, and takes up almost the entire watch face. The display resolution has also increased to 200 x 228 pixels, which is about 80 percent denser than it was before.

In addition to introducing new hardware, Pebble is also updating its software. One of the benefits of the chronological Timeline interface it introduced last year was that you could easily see what was coming up just by hitting one of the buttons on the side (i.e., without having to open an app on your watch). Now the company is making that process one step easier with a new setting that'll automatically surface the preview 5 to 10 minutes before an event. It's basically like a calendar notification, except it doesn't take over the entire watch screen. Instead, it takes up a small sliver on the bottom of the watch face that resizes automatically based on the size of the "peek."

Another new feature is called Actions, which lets you access certain apps and functions a lot faster than before. Think of it as a list of shortcuts; you bring up the list with the top button and select the action with the center button. "Instead of having to open a list of apps and then navigate to the app and then choose one of the features, we want to make you have the ability to do it within seconds," says Migicovsky.

For example, if you access the weather app through the Actions list, it'll automatically call up the weather in your current city without you having to specify it. You could also set it up so you can text one specific person -- say, your significant other -- quickly.

Migicovsky was especially keen to show off the Uber app integrated into Actions. "It takes a lot of concentration to choose an Uber -- you have to choose what car you want, confirm your location and so forth. We wanted to simplify everything down to one click." With Actions, the app will automatically do all of that, thanks to your preferred settings. Migicovsky gave a demonstration where he was able to call a car the instant he pressed a button: There was no need to confirm it or anything.

These Actions will be introduced as an open API and built on top of Javascript so that developers will find it easier to build integrations. The actions can then be distributed on the Pebble App Store and downloaded just like a regular app.

The Pebble 2 and the Pebble Time 2 are available for preorder on Kickstarter starting today. Just as before, Migicovsky and crew are essentially using the crowdfunding platform as a way to reach out to the community and get a certain amount of public confidence; it's not because Pebble is in any dire need of finances to make the products. The Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2 will retail for $129 and $199 respectively, but their Kickstarter prices are just $99 and $169. Both are expected to ship in September of this year.