Talking tech since 2003

Pebble today announced an online hackathon that will reward the first place developer(s) with $5,000 and a Pebble Steel for each of the top 16 finalists. The hackathon will run until March 23, and will operate like a tournament where registered Pebble owners can vote to determine the winning app.  Pebble has been fairly busy lately, releasing the Pebble Steel (which I just got) along with the Pebble App Store to help improve the functionality of the device, but now, it needs to take it to the next level and I think the company is hoping this hackathon will help.

Smartwatches (e.g. Pebble) and HUDs [Heads Up Displays] (e.g. Google Glass) will likely be subject to the ultimate product determinant: apps. Just like with smartphones and tablets, apps will be a massive factor in picking one wearable device over another.  This is why it’s critically important that Pebble is able to build a large ecosystem of good apps for its hardware, especially since they want people like me to go out there and convince you all that you need their product.

At a SXSW panel yesterday, there was a healthy discussion about the future of wearables as well as the value that can be gotten from them. Right now, health and fitness is a big area for wearables and is where many companies are focusing their wearable efforts including Nike, Samsung, and likely Apple with its rumored iWatch.  The thing is, once a consumer gets over the novelty stage of being able to track how many steps they take, constant heart rate information, etc, as Jef Holove, CEO of Basis, points out the question then becomes one of “now what?”

A good question, indeed.

Wearables need to provide consistent value for customers.  And that value needs to be able to translated from early adopters to non-early adopters in order for wearables to achieve the same magnitude of success as smartphones and tablets.

But back to Pebble, while the Steel is a definite improvement aesthetically its features are identical to original Pebble. Neither Pebble device offers any health or fitness related features, something I expect to change in the next generation of Pebble smartwatches in order for it to remain competitive.  Yes, the Pebble is the best smartwatch on the market today, but most wearables today are mediocre at best and a big reason for that is because I don’t think we have a solid idea of how wearables fit into our lives yet.

So will a hackathon help Pebble?  Well, it certainly won’t hurt and it will likely bring a handful of cool new apps to the Pebble App Store, but at the current time I find it hard to believe any app submitted for the hackathon will play a major role in shaping the future of Pebble.

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