Kickstarter phenom Pebble taps RunKeeper as first app

By Brian Dolan
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Pebble RunKeeperIn recent weeks Pebble, developers of a "smartwatch" that connects to iPhone and Android devices via Bluetooth, has become the most successful project or startup to leverage the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise money: So far, it's raised more than $8 million. The Kickstarter platform has only raised a few hundred million overall, which made Pebble's success headline news. This week the smartwatch maker tapped fitness app developer RunKeeper to be the first app with which it integrates its wrist worn computer.

The Pebble watch will enable users to view and interact with apps via the wristworn device's eInk display.

RunKeeper's CEO Jason Jacobs told MobiHealthNews that the Pebble watch will enable users to start and stop tracking their activity, change songs on their music while they run, and get real-time updates on their workouts right from the watch's display. Jacobs noted that some RunKeeper users will wear their smartphones on an armband on their upperarm, which typically means the phone's display is behind a plastic case that makes the device's touchscreen device difficult to use.

"What are situations where it is more convenient to check a wristworn computer than to check a phone in your pocket?" Jacobs asked. "There are lots of situations where you don't need a wrist computer, but this happens to be one situation where it does make sense. [Pebble chose RunKeeper as its first app partner] because it a showcase of the value that Pebble is building."

Jacobs thinks it's inevitable that eventually wristworn computers won't need to communicate with users' phones. This new category of devices will open up a world of possibilities for how people engage with devices on their wrists, he said.

"There were skeptics about tablets when tablet devices first came out. They thought the device had no use cases, but users have shown that they do," Jacobs said. "Tablets did not displace computers or laptops and they're not displacing mobile phones. Similarly, smart watches or wrist computers will be a category that will emerge, but I don't think it will displace any of the product categories that are already out there."

Jacobs said that devices like Pebble will bring value to "a decent sized segment" of RunKeeper's user base -- many of them have asked for this functionality, Jacobs wrote in a company blog post this week. Jacobs told MobiHealthNews that partnering with Pebble will help RunKeeper better understand this emerging type of device.

"Getting quick experimentation and ongoing learning is probably the most valuable thing that we could be doing as a company right now," Jacobs said. "Trying different things and learning what resonates with users and what doesn't."

On that note, Jacobs pointed us to a RunKeeper blog post from a few weeks ago that admitted the company had been spreading itself too thin and taking on too much. As a result, Jacobs said the focus today is about 80 percent on the core product and maybe 20 percent on figuring out integration with other devices and apps out there. RunKeeper launched a very ambitious integration initiative called the Health Graph last July.

"We are seeing sensors in clothes, sensors in ski goggles, on wrists -- sensors everywhere," Jacobs said. "The longterm goal is integrate all of those and leverage the information they collect to make the phone into an accountability and motivational machine -- that's our focus."

For some RunKeeper users, seeing the app on their wrists rather than on their phones makes for a more compelling experience, Jacobs predicted, and more compelling experiences make for better results, he said.

Pebble expects to begin shipping its smartwatches this September.

For more details, check out this RunKeeper blog post on the Pebble partnership.