Last April, after failing to convince venture capitalists to fund Pebble, Migicovsky pitched it on Kickstarter, a website where any Internet user can support a project. He asked for $100,000. He got $10.3 million before capping his request. Supporters who spent $115 were promised a watch, which means Pebble has already sold about 85,000 watches. Cookoo and STRATA also turned to Kickstarter for start-up funding.
Michael Gartenberg, research director for technology research firm Gartner Inc., warned all of these start-ups face major challenges.
“There’s been a lot of failed efforts to create smart watches and the key will be for vendors to understand the watch isn’t just another digital device,” he said. “Consumers wear watches for many reasons that have nothing to do with telling time, as evidenced by watch companies such as Rolex.”
Gartenberg said that so far, none of the smart watches are really designed for the mass market. “The real question is will Apple or Google get into this space?” he asked, noting that Microsoft tried some years ago with their failed SPOT watches.
Any new device, even a watch, also raises regulatory questions. Are they safe to use on airplanes? Could they interfere with other devices? California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Erin Komatsubara said drivers are allowed to glance at a smart watch but it’s not recommended to try to read anything at all while driving.
“It’s considered a distraction,” she said. “Two eyes on the road, two hands on the wheel, that’s what we really, really want.”
Manuel Yazijian, president of The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, said mechanical watches have a mystique of their own. But he said watchmakers may eventually turn their focus, attention to detail and ability to work on small items to smart watches.
“It’s a different ballgame. I just don’t know if they’ll need maintenance and repair yet,” he said. “Time will tell, no pun intended.”
And the app Yazijian would like to see? “Our industry likes the old school mechanical stuff that ticks, like a heartbeat, like a live animal on your wrist,” he said. “It would be so cool if the smart watch could make a ticking sound, right?”
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