At CES, two types of smartwatch battle for Middle Wrist

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Pebble

In a press room at the end of a large hallway, CEO Eric Migicovsky speaks to an enthusiastic crowd of journalists, each hoping to get a detailed look at what Migicovsky has to offer. Migicovsky is the CEO of Pebble, a customizable e-paper smartwatch that seeks to revolutionize the wearable device industry.

Pebble has a strong set of supporters which helped ensure the product would become a reality. In an effort to secure funding, Pebble turned to the crowd-funding service Kickstarter, and quickly became the highest-grossing Kickstarter campaign ever, with nearly 69,000 backers ordering more than 85,000 watches, with $10.25 million in raised revenue.

And with good reason. The Pebble smartwatch is a sleek, modern device with a fully-customizable e-paper display. The watch displays the time in a variety of ways, from the written word to the typical analog watchface to the bizarre binary clock fit for nerds. And if you don’t happen to like any of the installed watchfaces, you can download your own from the company’s store, which will soon grow crowded as the company plans on opening their software development kit (SDK) in the coming months.

Of course, telling the time is only half the battle in the smartwatch war. Pebble connects with your iPhone or Android device to display social media notifications, text messages, and control your multimedia content, and also runs fitness and sports applications which allow you to track your exercise activity or see how far your ball is from the hole on the golf course. This functionality, too, will grow as more developers adopt Pebble and build applications for the device. This connected, interactive view of the smartwatch is where Pebble has bet the future of the company, and with such a high level of interest, it’s clear consumers are at least interested in the concept.

To be clear, there were certainly more interactive connected watches on display at CES, but none garnered as much consumer interest as the Pebble.

Cookoo

Cookoo

In the middle of a relatively empty hallway in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, three people sit on a couch discussing the future of their own smartwatch. Their watch, the adorably-named Cookoo watch, also launched as a Kickstarter campaign just a few months after Pebble. Reception to the Cookoo watch was far more muted, however, with just 2,560 backers and just over $300,000 in revenue.

The Cookoo offers a different take on the smartwatch trend, viewing the watch as more of the typical accessory to your phone than a moderate phone replacement. Cookoo does not have an interactive e-paper display, or even an interactive display at all. Instead, the Cookoo offers all the comforts of a traditional analog watch with minimal connectivity with your iPhone or Android device.

Cookoo has backlit notification icons on the watchface which tell you when you’ve received a text, tweet, missed call, or a variety of other messages. Four physical buttons are found along the outside of the Cookoo watch, one of which can be programmed to control your music, take a picture with your camera, or various other features available on the Cookoo iOS and Android application.

The Battle for Middle Wrist

One thing is very clear when wandering the halls of the largest CES to date; smart accessories, including smartwatches, will play an important role in consumers lives in 2013, and wrist wearables such as smartwatches and fitness accessories such as the Fitbit Flex will take center stage. With anywhere from 70 to 80% of adults wearing a wristwatch, the smartwatch market appears ripe for the taking for the right product.

The Bits Blog of the New York Times posted an article back in August 2012 which suggested that smartwatches that provide more functionality than simply telling the time will grow in the next few years, fueled by devices which also track fitness activity. The Pebble smartwatch, Fitbit Flex, Nike’s Fuelband, and Jawbone’s Up, among others, all feature some level of fitness tracking capability, with the Pebble uniquely positioned as the Swiss Army Knife of connected devices.

Of course, the one size fits all approach may not be practical for every situation. While Pebble might be fine for most situations, there are at least some scenarios where a limited-connected device like the Cookoo watch would be preferred. As a business professional by day, I find myself frequently in meetings with a buzzing pocket. Conceptually, I would much rather have the Cookoo on my wrist telling me whether the buzz is a tweet/text message (something that likely doesn’t need my urgent attention) or a missed call/voicemail (which likely does). What I don’t want in that scenario is to constantly be looking down at my watch and reading through whatever notification happened to pop up on the screen.

Bits also suggested that consumers may purchase multiple connected smartwatch devices to meet their various needs, though with the cost of smartwatches between $100 and $300 (and up), most consumers will have to choose. While the Cookoo watch and other limited-connected devices may be perfect for some situations, fully-connected devices like Pebble will (and, likely should) ultimately win the day. Nowhere was this trend more evident than CES, where an energetic and widely-streamed Pebble keynote trumped a little-traveled booth in the North Hall.

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This article was written by Anthony Domanico

Anthony is the Editor in Chief of Techgress, and a big mobile and gaming geek. He's covered mobile technology for the better part of three years, and gets excited about shiny, new things. He currently uses an iPhone, iPad Mini, and Nexus 7, but Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry devices are never too far away.

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