Smartwatches can display texts, breaking news alerts, phone calls, and more right on your wrist. But when your phone isn't nearby, most wearables do little more than tell the time.
Pebble is attempting to address this shortcoming with a new device called the Core, a $69 clip-on module that includes a GPS sensor and a 3G radio. The Core is primarily being targeted at runners who want to leave their phones home during workouts. It allows for music streaming via Spotify and GPS tracking without a smartphone nearby. But to do this, owners will have to either connect to a Wi-Fi network and cache their playlists to the Core, or purchase an extra SIM card to enable 3G connectivity.
The Core can also send a text message with your location to a friend or family member in the event of an emergency. It's not intended to replace your phone, although Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky acknowledged this as a far-off possibility. "You might just use this to take calls as well at some point in the future," he said. The Core is also open to third-party developers.
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Adding more wireless components to smartwatches often results in bulkier designs and higher prices. The goal behind the Core, which ships in January, is to offer features like location tracking as an optional addition while keeping Pebble's watches light and comfortable.
Pebble's Core is a clever idea meant to solve one of the largest pain points with wearable devices: They typically rely on your smartphone for most of their functionality. It's a problem that tech behemoths like Google and Apple are also trying to address. The search giant recently announced that apps made for its Android Wear platform will be able to run on their own without a phone nearby. Meanwhile, Apple is said to be working on adding cellular connectivity to its next Apple Watch, which would allow it to function independently of an iPhone.
Migicovsky believes the Core represents a step toward a future in which we won't need to keep our phones nearby throughout the day. "People might get used to the idea of leaving the house without their phone and relying on the Core and Pebble combination to keep them connected," he says.
A device like the Core that can differentiate Pebble's products from the competition is vital for the company as the smartwatch space becomes more crowded. Although Pebble's devices have seen success on Kickstarter, it remains a relatively small player in a global market dominated by Fitbit, Apple, and Xiaomi, among others.