Pebble Sets Kickstarter Record As Apple Watch Approaches

A crowdfunded startup aims to hold its own amid an increasingly competitive smartwatch market.
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As Apple prepares to enter the smartwatch market in a little over a month, smartwatch pioneer Pebble has returned to crowdfunding to fortify its position.

Between April and May 2012, Pebble received a mandate from the masses to produce a smartwatch through a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $10 million, more than 100 times its original funding goal.  

For its encore, company is on its way to exceeding that figure. On Tuesday, Pebble launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Pebble Time, a color smartwatch with an e-paper display, and reached $1 million in pledges in 30 minutes.

According to Kickstarter, that's the shortest amount of time for any project to reach $1 million. By 8:00 AM ET on Wednesday, Pebble raised more than $8.6 million in funds from over 40,700 individuals. If pledges continue at this rate, the company will reach $10 million in just over one day.

Pebble expects to deliver Pebble Time in May 2015. The device will retail for $199, and has already sold out at its lowest Kickstarter tier, $159. It features a new timeline interface, battery life of up to seven days, and a microphone for responding to notifications. It will be available in three colors – black, white, and red -- and will support more than 6,500 existing Pebble apps.

Earlier this month, Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky said the company shipped its millionth Pebble smartwatch at the end of 2014. In March 2014, the company reported having sold over 400,000 units.

Pebble appears to be keeping pace with the entire group of vendors using Google's Android Wear platform. Two weeks ago, analyst firm Canalys said about 720,000 Android Wear devices shipped in 2014, out of a total of 4.6 million smart wearable bands. It also said that Chinese firm Xiaomi shipped over a million of its Mi Bands.

[ Read more about Pebble: Pebble Time Smartwatch Sets Kickstarter Ablaze. ]

Global smartwatch shipments increased 142% year-over-year in 2014, according to Strategy Analytics. In an email, analyst Neil Mawston said the firm expects 25 million smartwatches will be sold globally in 2015. It should be noted that different analyst firms categorize wearables in different ways, making it difficult to compare projections and sales figures.

When the Apple Watch arrives in April, it's expected to capture a substantial portion of the wearable market. In February, communications consultancy CCS Insight forecast that sales of wearables will increase from 29 million in 2014 to 172 million in 2018. It expects the Apple Watch to sell about 20 million units by the end of 2015, accounting for about 25% of the wearable market.

JP Morgan has predicted Apple will sell 26.3 million Apple Watches this year. BMO Capital Markets analyst Keith Bachman forecasts sales of 19 million.

Apple's initial production run for the Apple Watch is reportedly between 5 and 6 million units. It would be more to Apple's advantage have demand outstrip supply, creating the impression that the product is a hit, than to struggle with unwanted inventory. Microsoft appears to have followed this launch strategy with its Microsoft Band, which sold out shortly after its October launch.

Though Apple's conquest of the smartwatch market appears to be inevitable, in part because no one else seems to be aiming at the high end of the market, Pebble has enough advantages -- price, battery life, iOS and Android compatibility, and apps -- that it should be able to thrive so long as Android Wear devices don't drive the price of smartwatches too low.

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