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Pebble announces two new watches and the Core, a pocket computer for runners

TechCrunch TechCrunch 24/05/2016 Brian Heater

“This is Pebble Core,” Eric Migicovsky says with a smile. “It’s our first non-watch product. The simplest way to explain it is that it’s a computer that fits on your keychain. It’s a tiny Android computer without a screen. It has 3D, GPS, Wi-Fi, a little bit of memory and both Android and JavaScript apps run on Pebble’s JavaScript framework.”

The Pebble Core is an odd thing, at first glance. It’s a unique product for the company that is all at once different and familiar. It’s a pocket computer designed for runners, created to complement the company’s new watch offerings while playing to the startup’s new-found focus on health.

Roughly the size of a silver dollar, the product’s functionality can be compared on a very basic level to that of an iPod Shuffle, with built-in storage and a headphone jack so users can ditch the smartphone when they go for a run. Of course, Migicovsky is quick to point out that the product does a heck of a lot more than Apple’s screenless music player.

“It’s great for people who want to listen to Spotify when they go for a run,” the CEO explains. “And we built the entire product around that. It’s just $70. It’s super affordable. You can go for a run without the Core, but if you use the Core, it shows you your speed, your distance traveled, you can change music and do all kinds of other things.”

The Core has a SIM slot for cellular access, a battery that offers nine hours of music playback and GPS tracking on a charge and syncs with a variety of third-party fitness apps, including RunKeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, Google Fit and Under Armour Record. It also doubles as a keychain and charges wireless with any Qi charging pad. And the openness of the cube’s JavaScript framework leave open unlimited possibilities for developers.

Nearly as interesting as what the product does is the story of how it came to be. “We looked at bringing all of the functionality people need when they’re running,” explains Migicovsky. “I know that some of the competitors in the running watch space have tried to build devices with all of that functionality built in, but generally they get pretty big and you end up using it for that one use. We decided not to build all of that functionality into the watch. Instead we built a secondary device that does music streaming and emergency calls in a little tiny computer.”

But the Core is just a piece of what is far and away the biggest launch for the company. Two months after Pebble was forced to lay off around a quarter of its staff, the startup is tripling down, launching three major products — a tremendous simultaneous push for a company with 120 employees. “We’re getting good at launching watches,” says Migicovsky. “We’ve done a number over time. This is new to us. We’re excited and energized, but we’re running full throttle.”

The Core will be joined by the latest versions of the flagship Pebble and the higher-end Pebble Time. With a starting price of $99, the Pebble 2 features a week of battery life and built-in sleep monitoring, heart-rate tracking and step counting, in keeping with the company’s new health focus. It’s water resistant up to 30 meters and has a built-in microphone for voice replies and notes. It’s set to start shipping in September.

Arriving two months later with a $169 starting price, the Pebble Time 2 features a larger, higher-res display, along with a 10-day-long battery and a built-in mic and heart-rate monitor, like the Pebble 2. All three products are launching on Kickstarter today — perhaps unsurprisingly, given the continued success the company has had on the crowdsourcing platform over the years.

“Nowadays this is just how you build companies,” Migicovsky explains when asked why Pebble keeps going back to that well. “Tesla launched the Model 3 a couple of weeks ago, and they basically launched a giant Kickstarter. They took down payments for a car they wouldn’t ship for years. You’ll see more and more that this is just how companies work in 2016. They work more closely with their community to talk about what features they should build in. And they roll with that.”

The big lesson in all of this, so far as Migicovsky is concerned, is simple: Ship a product. In the wake of a rollercoaster of financial ups and downs, he believes that’s the single greatest lesson he can impart on hardware startups. “When I see people in CalTrain using the product, it’s the coolest thing in the world,” he explains. That’s critical. Some people get caught up in whether the product is perfect. Should I wait? Should I hold off? My advice is always just push on. See what happens.”

Today’s news certainly signals a company pushing on in the face of adversity. And with three major product launches all happening at once, what happens is surely bound to be interesting.

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