Amazon’s Alexa Gets Stuffed in a Matchbox

Pebble Announces Alexa Integration with Its Tiny Clip-On Device


Pebble, the start-up that helped spur the market for wearables when it launched its Pebble Smartwatch in 2012, is now introducing a new product category.

Pebble recently announced its new Kickstarter-funded product called Core, an Android-based, clip-on device somewhat similar in appearance to Apple’s iPod Shuffle. The Kickstarter price for Core is $69, and as of this writing there are already about 54,000 backers who have pledged a total of $10 million for the product’s development. Pebble expects to ship the product in January 2017.

Core can play music and has GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 3G-connectivity via its micro-SIM slot. There is no LTE support. Although Core has 4GB of internal storage, Pebble stresses the device’s cellular connectivity and built-in support of Spotify for music on the move. Core can track a runner’s pace, distance and location through GPS, using apps such as RunKeeper. It can also send an emergency SOS message if needed. Pebble says the battery provides up to nine hours of location tracking and offline music. It charges with any wireless Qi-compatible charger. There’s no display but Core is intended to be paired with the Pebble app on Android or iOS devices as well as Pebble watches.

Perhaps most intriguing is the integration of Amazon’s voice-controlled digital assistant Alexa into the miniscule device. A year ago, Amazon opened up Alexa Voice Service to be used in third-party hardware and introduced an API for such a purpose. Amazon said it envisioned its service being used in connected cars and kitchens, supporting natural user interfaces in ordinary household products such as lights, locks and lawn sprinklers.

To encourage the use of the Alexa Voice Service, Amazon also introduced a $100 million Alexa Fund to support the development of products that use the service. Through the fund, Amazon has invested in a series of diverse start-up developing products such as voice-controlled pet feeders and communicating toys.

There’s always been something special about Pebble since it introduced its first smartwatch, which it began shipping in 2013. Though Apple and Samsung are the current leaders in the smartwatch market, the Pebble brand still evokes a certain appeal and is always associated with resounding crowdfunding success stories.

Pebble also introduced “Core for Hackers”, being described by Pebble as a “hackable computer on your keychain”. This open variant of the device allows engaged users to turn a Core device into a tiny, dedicated computer that can act as a garage door opener or pet tracker. With cellular connectivity and an open development environment, we can expect developers to come out with some intriguing uses for the device, similar to what we have seen with the family of Raspberry Pi open-board, low-cost computers.

Along with the Core products, Pebble has also launched two new watches, the Pebble 2 and the Time 2. The Pebble 2, which starts at $99, has a black and white e-paper display, a heart rate monitor, activity and sleep tracking and it’s also water-resistant. The Pebble Time 2, which costs $169, has essentially the same feature set but has a colour e-paper display and a larger battery.

It’s difficult not to be impressed with Pebble’s innovations. The use of Amazon’s Alexa on the Pebble Core is likely to inspire other makers of wearable technology and connected devices. It’s not always necessary to outmanoeuvre tech heavyweights such as Amazon and Google, but to leverage their platforms.

For more on the growing importance of voice user interface and digital assistants powered by artificial intelligence, please see Loud and Clear: Voice Interfaces Form New Battleground.

It’s also clear that voice interface is not just in the house but on the move as well.