The Digital Life: David vs. Goliath

Pebble vs. Apple

Tiny start up manufacturer Pebble entered the “smart watch” arena before Apple, although they knew Apple was going to become a player. What were they thinking?

My Pebble Watch
My Pebble Watch

For many years Apple was a computer company. Today Apple is a consumer products company, and to reflect this change, a while back they changed their name from “Apple Computer” to “Apple.” During this metamorphosis Apple became the most valuable company on the planet.

And how did they do this? By Re-inventing things we already use. First was the iPod, which is a personal music player. There were many of these MP3 players on the market prior to the introduction of the iPod, but Apple redefined it. They “built a better mousetrap” and the public beat a path to the Apple cash registers.

Next Apple redefined the cell phone and then the tablet computer. And the Apple faithful stood in lines to scoop up the release of the newest and greatest Apple product whether it be an iPod, iPhone, iPad, and of course a Mac computer. Each year the faithful wait anxiously for an announcement of the improved “iThing” so they can rush out and obtain the latest and greatest.

I have one of each. Other than the iPod, all are used mainly for work; and they are used to improve my productivity and efficiency. They are use to increase my inventory of recreation timeThe iPod has replaced a large collection of vinyl records, thus simplifying my life.

pebble watch-3

I have an iPod Classic 160GB, which replaced a 7 year old and smaller capacity iPod Classic –  the old one was running out of space, the hard drive was getting quirky at times, and the non-user replaceable battery was nearing its end of life (yes I know it can be replaced). My iPod houses my entire musical library, which at this point is over 300 albums and more than 3,000 songs. Most of these are digitized versions of my vinyl LPs that I wrote about a while back. Even with this many songs on the iPod, I still have 126GB of free space.

I have an iPhone 5s, which replaced an iPhone 4. The 4 was the first iPhone for me and Joyce. When those phones were heading towards 3 years in age we replaced them with a couple of iPhone 5s models. Joyce’s iPhone 4 was beginning to act up, so we decided it was time. This was just before the release of the iPhone 6, so we got them cheap. My iPhone allows me work when traveling, thus it allows me to multi-task so I can add hours to my recreation time bucket. I don’t mind upgrading phones with newer models, since the  phone companies subsidize the cost and the monthly cell phone plan is usually cheaper than the last one. There is no reason for me to get an iPhone 6.

A few years ago, Joyce bought me an iPad for Father’s Day. I really wasn’t sure how I would use it, or what I would use it for. It has become the most frequent electronic item I use. Often it replaces my laptop when I don’t need that kind of horsepower or bulk; often it replaces the iPhone, because it’s larger retina screen is simply a pleasure to view. Unfortunately the screen on my iPad is now severely cracked, victim of a drop to the ground. It is still functional and hopefully Joyce will buy me a new one this Father’s Day. The iPad Air 2 is faster, lighter, and more powerful than the old one, but I would not be interested in upgrading if the old one wasn’t broken. The cost to fix it is almost the same as a new one.

Last year I replaced my company Window laptop with a MacBook Pro. It is much faster, works better and when needed I can even run Windows programs.

Here is the thing about Apple products. They work. They are useful. And what they really have over the completion is they are visually appealing, they almost could be considered works of art.

Built-In Obsolescence

There was a time that built-in obsolescence was thought to be a product built to fail over a period of time, requiring the owner to purchase a new one. What it really means is improved designs drive consumer demand in a saturated market. Improved design can mean improved function or better technology. In the automotive industry it means new styling will entice consumers to purchase a different looking model, while the old model works just as well as the old one. New models entice dumb people to purchase even though it doesn’t work any better than the old one. Apple has built-in obsolescence in its consumer products, but it is not based on product quality; it is based on technological improvements for each new iteration of its products. Most of Apple’s model improvements are not really that significant, since the older products benefit from the same software upgrades as the new product. Apple knows their customer base just “have to have” the new model. And this is what the Apple faithful breathlessly await each year, hoping Apple will release a new and improved iThing. Can they repeat this with a watch?

Who Needs A Watch?

I have read that the younger generations aren’t big watch users. Smart phones have replaced the watch. Over the years I have used my watches less and less. I am just not that time conscious. If I have an appointment my phone will remind me. Other than that, everything else can wait until I am ready – best to live on my schedule than someone else’s.

Recently I was at Best Buy, just killing some time because my wife dragged me to a shopping center. I was amazed at the selection of Smart Watches, you know, FitBits, Nike, Garmin, Androids, and Pebbles.

A Watch is Watch – or is it?

dick tracy watch

I have three backpacking watches, which I wrote about a while back. The first two are several decades old, the newest, the Timex, is what is called a throwaway product. If it breaks, it probably can’t be repaired and if it could be it is probably cheaper to just buy another one.

I also have two “dress” watches. One is a Seiko my Dad gave me in 1969. The other is also a Seiko Joyce bought for me a few years ago as an anniversary gift — that watch is beautiful. These are not only watches; they are also jewelry. And they can be repaired should they break.

What all the watches I own have in common is one plain and simple fact: they are timepieces. They keep time. That is their only useful function. I also have a Casio solar watch that does all sorts of things, which makes it heavy and bulky. I rarely wear it. I had asked Joyce to buy it for me one Christmas, and then realized I only need a watch to tell time. I keep the Casio in our camper and wear it when we hike and also to know when it is time to go home.

Why do we need a watch (or other technology) that bombards our brains with data such as blood pressure, pulse, distance traveled, cadence, altitude, temperature, weather, music, and other barriers to actually living? Do we need this information? I don’t need it. You probably don’t need it either — but Madison Avenue and the Internet is telling you your life will be a pitiful inconsequential mess without it. You may want to read my tome, Technology Might Be Killing Wilderness. It also is killing our everyday lives and our brains. Skip the technology and just use your brain to live. Learn to think, learn to apply logic to life. Learn to look around you and enjoy the world. Learn to imagine. Disconnect your mind from technology and connect to the real world. You may not realize it, but companies are controlling your behavior and your life with this consumer technology. They get rich, you get dumber.

What is a Smart Watch?

These things have been around for a while. Watches that tell time, track your fitness, work as GPS receivers, etc., etc. But today, I think most people view a watch that integrates with a smart phone as a Smart Watch.

Apple is betting that it can revolutionize the watch market, just as it did with MP3 players, cell phones, and tablets. But really, what could you do with one? You can tell time of course. What else would be truly useful or necessary to live a good life? Of course you can impress your friends with your new Apple Watch. If you need a watch to impress people, or if you even need to impress people; then your life is the pitiful inconsequential mess I mentioned earlier, and a Smart Watch cannot change that.

The Pebble Watch

The Pebble was launched as a KickStarter project a few years ago. At the time it was the largest KickStarter project ever funded. The developers were looking to raise $100,000 in thirty days. The total funded was in excess of $10 million!

Earlier this year, just prior to the release of the Apple Watch, Pebble started a new KickStarter campaign to launch a new version called the Pebble Time. This time the goal was $500,000 and the total pledged was over $20 million, a new KickStarter record. I would imagine the timing with a Apple release helped Pebble.

I bought a Pebble about a year ago – no I didn’t get it off of KickStarter, you probably know how I feel about crowd funding. Yes, I knew Apple was coming out with their version. So why didn’t I wait for the Apple watch?

pebble watch-4

I needed a watch to fulfill a specific purpose; actually two purposes: the first is to tell time. The second was the desire to screen my phone. That is; a desire to filter out most of what a modern cell phone does. Just as a secretary screen’s the boss’s phone calls, I saw the Pebble as a method to screen and reject most of my phone calls, emails, and those awful text messages. And it has done it well. I can now put my phone on vibrate, leave in my computer case or a jacket pocket, and ignore it. I don’t do anything with the Pebble, other than decline phone calls or make a mental note an important email. If there is a true emergency, then the watch will notify me.

If I didn’t travel for work, I would simply wear a timepiece. A watch whose only function is to keep time. The Pebble does this and more. There isn’t anything else I need a fancy work watch to do. I understand there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of apps for the Pebble. I don’t have any.

The downside to the Pebble is the battery needs to be charged about once a week, and this requires a special cable. The Apple Watch needs to be charged ONCE A DAY and also needs a special charging solution.

The Apple and the new Pebble do even more… you can even talk on your watch. Holy Dick Tracy! Nah, I don’t need any of that.

$17,000 Apple Edition Watch
$17,000 Apple Edition Watch

Apple watches are considerably more money ranging from $349 to $17,000. Keep in mind, given Apple’s past history, that $17,000 watch will probably be technology obsolete in a year or two. For $17K I can buy a Rolex or other quality crafted timepiece that will last decades and hold a large percentage its value. If I wanted a multi-thousand dollar watch it certainly wouldn’t be an Apple watch, a watch that will become a throw-away item… well one could melt the gold in it and sell that.

The original Pebble watch runs $99 or $199 depending on the model. The new Pebble Time will run $199 or $599 for the two models. I guess Pebble decided that if Apple was going to get outrageous prices, it could capitalize on public stupidity with a $600 watch, you know,

“A sucker is born every minute”

or 

“A fool and his money are easily separated.”

Both of these brands’ watches have all kinds of functions, features and perceived benefits. Oh, and they will also be able to tell you what time it is 🙂

EPILOGUE

You may ask,

“If you hate all this technology, why don’t you just turn off your phone or get rid of it?”

That’s a fair question. I have a job and I travel frequently. I need to be in contact with my team and my customers. My team consists of competent professionals who rarely call me – but when they do, they have a question or need information right away, because, like me, they are traveling. If a customer needs to contact me, I need to be available. Everything else inbound on my computer or phone is flack – stuff other people are trying to clutter my life with. The Pebble helps me end the clutter quickly.

Timex Expedition
Timex Expedition

Next year I am going to retire. When I retire, I will also retire my Pebble. It won’t be needed. An Apple watch won’t be needed today, or next year, or any year. When I need a watch, I will continue to wear my inexpensive Timex Expedition.

I bet you thought this was going to be some sort of review of the Pebble and Apple watches. Nah, like gear, watches are boring.

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