Future Tense

The World Is Going Nuts Over a Smartwatch. It Isn’t Apple’s.

Do you have the Pebble Time?

Photo via Pebble Time Kickstarter

The original Pebble smartwatch was the archetypal Kickstarter sensation. Launched on the crowd-funding site in 2012, the project hit its $100,000 fundraising goal in a matter of hours. It ultimately raised more than $10 million in a campaign so wildly successful that it thrust not only Pebble, but also smartwatches and Kickstarter itself into the national spotlight.

Three years later, the ground has been cleared for Apple to bring its own long-anticipated smartwatch to a clamoring public. Announced in September 2014, the Apple Watch is expected to hit stores in April, and its success or failure will help to shape the next five to 10 years of mobile computing.

For at least a day, however, Pebble has snatched the spotlight back from the richest corporation on Earth. On Tuesday, it launched a Kickstarter fundraiser for Pebble Time, a new “no compromises” smartwatch that it humbly bills as “awesome.”

The response was staggering. The campaign eclipsed its lowball target of $500,000 in minutes flat. It passed the $1 million mark in half an hour, raising money at a clip approaching $300 a second. As I write this, it has raised more than $5 million and counting. You can watch the numbers rise in near-real time with this Javascript widget hacked together by Jonathan Kupferman. The pace isn’t just record-breaking—it’s mesmerizing.

The original Pebble smartwatch was a brilliantly simple concept that helped to define a new category of computer. It was also, in the words of my former colleague Farhad Manjoo, kind of a dud.

The Pebble Time brings needed upgrades like a color display and a microphone that allows you to respond to incoming Android notifications by voice. (The voice replies aren’t yet compatible with most iOS apps.) It does so while claiming to maintain its “industry-leading” battery life of seven days, which could be a major selling point compared to an Apple Watch that is expected to need recharging every night.

More interestingly, Pebble Time reimagines the smartwatch interface, grouping notifications and other information according to chronology rather than purpose. Here’s how Pebble explains its “timeline” interface:

To see why this is a bright idea, just look at the clutter of the Apple Watch screen. Whether the Pebble Time works as neatly in practice as it sounds in theory, we won’t know until it ships.

That uncertainty isn’t keeping early adopters from forking over their cash today, however. The incentive: The first 10,000 backers on Kickstarter got their watches for a $160 donation, rather than the $200 the watch will go for at retail stores later this year. As of Tuesday afternoon, it’s too late to take advantage of that offer, but the next 20,000 will still get a discount, paying $180 instead of $200.

There are reasons to doubt that the Pebble Time will turn out to be quite the “no compromises” smartwatch that the company promises. (For one thing, it’s not exactly a looker.) That said, the early iterations of a new technology always involve compromises, and surely the Apple Watch will too. With the Pebble Time, those compromises will at least come at a lower price—and with a longer battery life.

You can read more about the Pebble Time—and buy one, if you’re so inclined—on its Kickstarter page.

Previously in Slate: