With 2014 barely two weeks in, wearable technology has already been announced as the trend of the year to watch (pun unintended, but let's run with it). On the back of industry trade shows including the International CES and National Retail Federation's BIG Show, wearable tech companies have started the year launching a slew of new products. Smartwatch pioneers and Kickstarter favorites Pebble launched the fashion-conscious Pebble Steel at CES, one of at least 22 new products now jostling for market share. ProgrammableWeb spoke with Thomas Sarlandie, Developer Evangelist at Pebble about the new Pebble appstore and how API developers will be the critical ingredient in a wearable tech company's future success.
Smartwatch frontrunner Pebble started the year by announcing the new Pebble Steel and foreshadowed the opening of their appstore, expected to be online later this month. Pebble Steel represents a turning point for the wearable tech market and acts as a milestone for this emerging industry. Previously focused on the tech aspects of their products, Pebble Steel shows that now is the time tech providers need to design back in the wearability focus of these products. According to Sarlandie, the Pebble Steel was "very well received" while a brief scan of the blogosphere suggests reviewers are happy to see a smartwatch entrant that focuses just as much on fashion and form as on function.
The Pebble appstore
Meanwhile, the Pebble appstore will open later this month with apps from both well known app players - Foursquare, Yelp, ESPN - and independent longtail developers targeting a product to a specific Pebble customer segment.
"In general, our SDK and APIs are global to anyone at our developer website," Sarlandie told ProgrammableWeb. "Anyone can build an integration, but for companies like Yelp and Foursquare we do give them a little more attention... we want them to also be a source of inspiration for developers. The amazing Pebble community already had an unofficial appstore, but the new official Pebble appstore will be a part of every user's experience with Pebble. We will be focusing on supporting independent developers and looking at how they can build a strong user interface on Pebble. The goal is always to show end users what they can do with Pebble."
When the appstore launches, it will not initially allow for paid apps to be sold on the platform. Third party developers are encouraged to look at two other specific business model approaches to monetize their Pebble app products, Sarlandie says. "Right now we don't support payment in the appstore, but we are considering it in the future. In the meantime, in the new Pebble appstore, developers can link to their companion iOS or Android apps in the iTunes and Google Play appstores. This gives them some publicity to their paid app on those platforms. Developers can also sell Pebble watches on their own website and we offer an interesting affiliate commission model for them."
The Pebble business model for third party developers
Sarlandie sees two main customer acquisition streams for API developers creating products for Pebble. Firstly, for app developers who already have end users, offering a Pebble integration gives their users more options to continue using their app. Secondly, for app developers creating new products, providing an app in the Pebble appstore helps them reach new users. "Pebble's audience started as really early adopters, but now with Pebble sold on Amazon and Best Buy, we are seeing more and more mainstream users who are interested. For example, in the golfing community, Pebble can do all of the things a golf watch can do, in biking, swimming, hiking... for all of these market segments - not necessarily early adopters - we are seeing more and more of them using Pebble, so developers can get more into [creating products for] those niches."
Sarlandie sees the Pebble API as central to the wearable tech company's ongoing growth: "We have only scratched the surface of what Pebble can do. We built the core features and set the foundation for the future with our APIs. We strongly believe developers, not us, will define Pebble in 2014."
By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.